Politics and Prejudices: Turning on Snyder

Last week was a bad one for our poor old "relentless positive action" governor, Rick Snyder. First, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce refused to help him out, even though Snyder has been a towel boy for their interests since the moment he took over as governor, more than four years ago.

Why, the very first thing he did was ram through a massive tax cut for business, doing so in part by shortchanging schools and eliminating most of a tax cut for the working poor.

Now, his top priority is a May 5 ballot proposal that would raise the sales tax to fix the crumbling roads. You'd think businesses would be solidly behind this.

After all, they need better roads, too, and raising the sales tax means the poor pay more than their fair share. Even if there are some things the Michigan Chamber doesn't like about this proposal (hint: It also helps education and local government), you'd think they'd owe the governor a vote of support.

Ho-ho. In politics, gratitude is a word in the dictionary. They wouldn't have dared to do this to John Engler, who knew how to reward friends and punish enemies. But Snyder had little clout to begin with, and now has almost none.

He's a lame duck, he can't run for re-election, and there's not much risk in antagonizing him. So the Michigan Chamber is officially staying neutral on the road tax bill, and won't put up a penny to help it pass. This is rather astounding, given that Snyder has bent over to give business whatever it wanted:

Tax relief, right-to-work. All this was supposed to lead to the creation of a vast number of new, good-paying jobs, plus Michigan apple pie a la mode in the sky.

The irony is that Snyder's been perhaps the most pro-business-interests governor in modern times. The one really good thing he's done was also mostly for business: clearing the way for a badly needed new bridge over the Detroit River.

Now, his top priority is fixing the state's crumbling roads and bridges, and he's not wrong. Snyder isn't very concerned with bettering the lives of poor working stiffs, much less with helping the truly poor and wretched. He's a businessman who wants to help his fellow rich guys prosper.

But unlike much of the legislature and the entire tea party, he is rational, not certifiably crazy. He knows we need decent roads if we're going to attract any new business, and hold on to what we have. He knows that the serfs as well as the bosses need a way to get to their crummy jobs, too, and that our ruined roads are tearing both Mercedes and their jalopies apart.

So for the last three years, he's been trying to get the lawmakers to fix them. First he asked the legislature to raise the gas tax and also car registration fees to produce the $1.2 billion a year that he felt was the minimum needed to fix the roads.

You would've expected that to sail through easily, especially since Snyder's fellow Repubs completely control the legislature. Once upon a time, it would have.

But not anymore. Snyder soon found out he had no real clout with the legislators. They care about their interests, not his. A few were tea party crazies: non-thinking, irrational believers in the crackbrained idea that all taxes are bad, and the roads can somehow be fixed without any new revenue.

Others were afraid of being "primaried" by anti-tax crazies if they voted new money to fix the roads. This went on for years, until finally last fall, Snyder saw his chance.

He figured he could get the lawmakers to pass a new tax to fix the roads in a "lame-duck" session after he was re-elected. Thanks to term limits, about a third of them were never coming back and never had to worry about another election.

This almost worked, but was sabotaged by Jase Bolger, the beefy, not-overly-brilliant outgoing Speaker of the House.

He flatly refused to even allow a vote on raising taxes for the roads. (Word on the street is that he either has pipe dreams of being governor, or at least of getting money somehow for doing the bidding of Amway heir Dick DeVos.)

The most he would do is allow the legislature to put this on the ballot. Even then, some wouldn't vote for it; Democratic votes were needed, and to get them, the ballot proposal was loaded up with presents for the progressives.

Mass transit will get some money; so will schools and local governments. The crucial earned income tax credits for the working poor, cruelly cut for the business tax break in 2011, would be fully restored when this is passed.

Unfortunately, all this seems to have antagonized conservatives more than it's won over liberals. Most people don't even know there's a May 5 election, and the governor's pro-proposal team has yet to start its campaign.

And if that weren't enough, Attorney General Bill Schuette, perhaps the least admirable politician in Lansing, has galloped down to shoot the wounded.

Normally attorneys general don't comment on issues outside their field of expertise, meaning (ahem) the law. Much less publicly embarrass a governor of the same party.

But Schuette stabbed his fellow Republican Snyder in the back, claiming Proposal 1 "has a lot of potholes and pitfalls," and said he would vote against it. What he's doing, of course, is the same thing he's been doing in the same-sex marriage case: Sucking up to the tea party and the far right.

He wants to be governor so bad he can taste it, and plans on being nominated with their votes three years from now.

Don't you just love it: The Detroit Free Press, which long ago left its historic building and now rents space in one owned by Dan Gilbert, has been devoting acres of coverage to mawkish cheerleading for Dan to build a new People's Palace on the site of the long-dynamited old Hudson's Building.

Now that's what I call fair and balanced.

Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.
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