Blog Posts For The Week Of March 24, 2015 Through March 30, 2015

Snyder Answers To Presidential Queries Taking On New Tone
By Zachary Gorchow

Posted: March, 30 2015 1:31 PM

Governor Rick Snyder gave two interviews last week while in Washington, D.C., that signal, maybe, he is actually giving a run for the presidency some serious thought.

I say this with some hesitancy because No. 1, I still think Mr. Snyder, with his innate lack of passion for retail campaigning, cannot possibly want to spend most of the rest of the this year camped out in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that will hold the first nominating caucus and nominating primary for the Republican presidential nomination. No. 2, Mr. Snyder’s chances of winning that nomination are remote, and even with Mr. Snyder’s mantra of positive thinking, I think he is aware of that reality.

And No. 3, Mr. Snyder has made it clear in the past he likes to have his name raised for national office as a way to generate some publicity for the state, so he doesn’t mind stoking the speculation.

All that said, Mr. Snyder’s comments last week to The Associated Press and then The Washington Post – to the Post’s top political writer, Dan Balz, no less – marked a distinct change in what Mr. Snyder is saying about a run for the presidency.

To the AP, when asked about running, Mr. Snyder said, “There’s time to evaluate opportunities.”

And then, in a lengthy Post feature, Mr. Snyder even analyzed the prospective 2016 presidential field. He said he was not convinced that those running grasp the distinction between ideology and solving a problem. He said there are “good people” running and mentioned former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The Post asked Mr. Snyder if either met the standard of putting problem-solving ahead of ideology.

“I don’t think they potentially go far enough in terms of getting out of the political discussion and getting to the problem-solving discussion. I don’t want to be critical of them, because I appreciate them being proactive,” he said.

These comments are distinctly different from past statements Mr. Snyder made about running for the White House, usually something along the lines of how he is “focused on Michigan.”

So maybe it is time to rethink long-held assumptions about Mr. Snyder’s political ambitions.

There are some real reasons to consider why he could make a viable run:

  • Money. Mr. Snyder has tremendous personal wealth, in case anyone forgot. He spent $6 million in his bid to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010. He isn’t going to self-finance a presidential campaign that will cost well into nine figures, maybe 10, but he has more than enough resources to get a campaign rolling. And Michigan has some of the most important and deep-pocketed Republican donors in the country. They could form a super political action committee to aid him. That kind of a one-two punch would help Mr. Snyder overcome Mr. Bush’s head start in fundraising.
  • Geniality. The Republican nominating contest, at this early stage, seems to be evolving into a Bush-Not Bush dynamic. Mr. Walker, at the moment, has laid claim to much of the portion of the Republican Party opposed to Mr. Bush. Mr. Walker has many strengths, but if there is one real concern about him as a general election candidate, it is that he comes off as a bit severe. In general, voters prefer to see some warmth in a presidential candidate.
  • Suburban appeal. Mr. Snyder has done something in Michigan that federal Republican candidates have repeatedly failed to do here. Dominate, and I do mean dominate, in Macomb and Oakland counties. He has managed to build a brand of fiscal restraint, yet backing targeted investments, and de-emphasizing social issues that appeals with those voters. A Republican presidential candidate who can pull off the same feat in other major metropolitan areas will win the White House.

Yet all the reasons why a Snyder run does not compute are still there. His record on social issues, immigration, support for the Common Core State Standards and Medicaid expansion put him opposite the Republican electorate. He is championing a big tax increase for roads. Most of these stances would help him in the general election, but will surely be an anvil around him in seeking the Republican nomination.

And if Mr. Bush officially gets into the race, as expected, Mr. Snyder would be competing for the same set of voters in the Republican Party. Yes, there is some Bush fatigue, but there also is considerable reverence in much of the GOP for the Bush family. Mr. Snyder is unknown nationally and cannot possibly replicate the incredible national structure the Bush family has established.

I still cannot imagine Mr. Snyder barnstorming from Nashua to Concord to Manchester and from Ames to Cedar Rapids to Dubuque. But if it seemed like there was a 0 percent chance of Mr. Snyder running for president a week ago, the percentage is now higher. Not by much, but the bottom line is it’s not 0 anymore.

Returning Some Sanity To The Legislature On The Budget Process
By Zachary Gorchow

Posted: March, 25 2015 3:02 PM

At the close of the day Thursday, House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees will have each completed action on 17 bills allocating funding for all state departments and major budget areas in the 2015-16 fiscal year with 33 of those 34 bills winning approval in a dizzying three-day span this week.

This is not how the Legislature has always handled the budget, and it’s time to call it for what it is: unnecessary madness.

Let’s start off by acknowledging that the issue at hand is about as inside baseball as it gets at the Capitol. It affects a fraction of legislators, their legislative staffs, the news reporters who cover the budgets, those representing groups with an interest in the budgets and, most of all, the staffs of the House and Senate Fiscal agencies, the experts who make the budget process function.

And let’s also say the process since 2011 is far better than what happened from 2007-10 when the Legislature and then-Governor Jennifer Granholm were so at odds on a budget that the process drifted into the fall with two partial government shutdowns. In September 2007, the Legislature was in session almost every day of the month, including Saturdays and Sundays. No one wants to go through that again.

The Legislature and the governor now wrap up the budget by early June, but the old, long-time system once used could still accomplish the same objective and not leave the heads spinning of everyone who follows and works in the budget process. It might even improve the process by letting legislators and staff focus on fewer budgets at once.

Once upon a time, long ago, in the late 1990s, back when smart phones did not exist, legislative session could only be followed remotely through a closed-circuit audio feed and Michigan State University’s basketball team enjoyed reliable success (oh wait, one of those things still holds true today), the Legislature had a different system for handling budget bills.

The House and Senate would divide and conquer. After the governor’s budget presentation in February, the House would take half the budget bills and the Senate would take the other half.

For example, it might break down like this:

  • House subcommittees start with Community Health, Higher Education, General Government, Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, State Police, Insurance and Financial Services and Agriculture and Rural Development; and
  • Senate subcommittees start with K-12 school aid, Human Services, Community Colleges, Corrections, Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Transportation, the Department of Education, Judiciary and Military and Veterans Affairs.

Then once the full House and full Senate complete work on their half of the budget bills, they begin work on the ones sent over by the other chamber. That second phase could be completed by the end of April, just in time for the mid-May revenue estimating conference that sets the final numbers for determining budget spending levels.

This system worked fine for many years. In fact, over history the Legislature and the governor often wrapped up the budget in June using it.

The paranoia about returning to the bad old days of shutdowns and budget brinksmanship seems to be driving the new system of having every subcommittee act on every budget at once in March. But avoiding another 2007 or 2009 is less about the new schedule and more about the political dynamics in place, how complicated the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is and the personalities of the legislative leaders at the time.

So maybe, come 2016, the Legislature can come up with a better system than cramming in vital budget decisions on 34 budget bills into three days.

I assume, however, that MSU basketball will continue to operate in March like it long has.

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