Politics & Prejudices: Hold your noses — and help Snyder

Feb 22, 2017 at 1:00 am
click to enlarge Politics & Prejudices: Hold your noses — and help Snyder

Here's how dreadful things are in the world of Lansing today: We have no choice but to do everything we can to support Gov. Rick Snyder's spending priorities for next year.

Otherwise, our state may be damaged beyond any reasonable hope of recovery, ever. We need to get the minority Democrats in the legislature to unite with what few sensible and sane Republicans there may be in Lansing.

No, I haven't changed my outlook on the world, nor am I Ricky's newest fan. There are indeed things about this budget, which would take effect Oct. 1, I don't like. Once again, Wayne State University would get screwed, getting less of an increase (2 percent) than the other two big universities, and far less than the 3.4 percent Grand Valley State would receive.

Grand Valley, you see, is the favorite school of GOP conservatives, who just know Wayne is filled with blacks and Democrats, some of whom are even — gasp — union members.

But by and large, the governor's spending plan is one put forth by a grown-up living in the real world. That's not true of the Republicans who control the state legislature. They are reckless ideologues, whose top priority is not the roads. Nor is it the rest of our decaying infrastructure, or our schools, or the health of our children.

What they care about — almost all some of them care about — is enacting a huge tax cut. They would slash Michigan's flat rate tax from the current 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent. The craziest of them want to then reduce it by a tenth of a percentage point every year, till it is entirely gone.

"We just want to make sure we are caring about the working families," said Laura Cox, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Aw, isn't that sweet.

"We want to make sure there is more money in their pockets," she told a reporter. In reality, a tax cut would be a few bucks a week for the average Joe, a big fat bonus for the rich, and a giant, nearly billion-dollar hole in next year's budget that would guarantee roads and schools would get worse.

To his credit, Snyder is enough of an accountant to know this state can't possibly afford a tax cut, though he was too much of a weasel to say so in so many words.

Curiously, since the Flint water crisis blew up in his face in late 2015, Snyder has found it increasingly difficult to take a strong stand on anything. You might expect the opposite, as it must now be painfully clear that he has no political future, and nothing to lose. Nobody is going to want the man whose administration poisoned an entire city's water supply.

Yes, he didn't mean to do that. But it is absolutely true that Gov. Rick Snyder's inattention to detail, failure to keep an eye on his subordinates, and curious lack of empathy for his fellow human beings are largely responsible for why people were forced to drink water filled with lead, water even General Motors refused to use because it corroded its engine parts.

We now sometimes forget that throughout his first campaign and much of his first term, Snyder frequently attempted to portray a "moderate" image.

However, when push came to shove, he could be counted on to pretty much flop down and go along with whatever the hard right wing of the legislature wanted. Remember how he helped ram through and sign the "right-to-work" legislation that he had said was "not on my agenda"?

Quite possibly, Snyder's "moderate" image may have been to some extent wishful thinking on the part of the media. When he has resisted the hard right, it has almost always been out of rational, pro-business calculation.

Snyder knows the roads need to be fixed, for example, in order to attract business, and so the serfs can get to work. He fought hard to enroll the state in the Healthy Michigan plan, the Medicaid expansion paid almost entirely by the feds, because he knew a workforce that had health care was better for business.

That stood in stark contrast to some of the primitives and haters he has to work with. Snyder did push back hard against Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof's wet dream of being able to stiff construction workers on state building projects, presumably because he knows nobody, least of all he, will look good if poorly constructed state buildings tumble down.

Occasionally, Snyder has had even worse ideas than the legislature, as when he wanted to severely "cap" the benefits for those terribly injured in auto accidents, even though there is more than enough money to take care of all of them for life.

However, this budget seems devoid of any of that. In a surprising indication that someone in this administration may have a heart, the governor even calls for boosting the clothing allowance for low-income children.

But what's not clear is whether Snyder can, or even will, fight to keep the good things in this budget and oppose a reckless tax cut. Since the Flint crisis and his humiliating failure to get voters to raise the sales tax to fix the roads in 2015, Snyder seems to have become very risk-adverse.

As a result, he seldom can muster the courage to take a position on any issue he absolutely doesn't have to.

For example, he never endorsed anyone for president, and then seemed puzzled that a victorious Donald Trump was in no hurry to talk to him. Snyder, who used to call himself the most pro-immigration governor in America, hasn't even been willing to say if he opposed Trump's clumsy and brutish attempts to ban all immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.

Trying to figure out what he really stands for is probably not worthwhile; it isn't clear, at this point, if he knows. But while he is often capable of touting wrongheaded policies, when given the chance, Snyder does seem to prefer rational behavior.

Cutting taxes for the rich and gutting a budget that already is failing to take care of our citizens is anything but.

These are not normal times, and until they get better, we need to save and protect whatever we can, in a state which once had better roads and schools and benefits than most places.

Slamming through one more tax cut for the rich might doom us to be Michisssippi for the rest of our lives.

We could use him now

Ten years ago, David Halberstam, one of the giants of modern journalism, died needlessly when he allowed a graduate student who was a lousy driver to take him to an interview. Among his greatest books was The Best and the Brightest, an account of how all the nation's most brilliant academics and diplomats managed to get us into the soul-destroying mess that was the Vietnam War.

He never knew that a decade after his death, a sequel called The Worst and Stupidest would be crying to be made.