For The Week Of October 14, 2017 Through October 20, 2017
Driver Responsibility Fees: A Showdown Between Snyder, Legislature?
As the Legislature plots a course on forgiving driver responsibility fees on some, if not all, of the more than 300,000 Michigan drivers saddled with them, a story we’ve heard before is beginning to emerge: the potential for butting heads between Governor Rick Snyder and his fellow Republicans who run both legislative chambers on a fiscal issue.
The Senate moved Thursday on amended legislation that would forgive about half of the state’s outstanding driver responsibility fees, or those six years or older. The Department of Treasury would be tasked with enforcing payment of those less than six years old as the program is phased out.
Meanwhile, the House is on track to move on a proposal of its own within the next couple of weeks. However, House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) remains dedicated to full forgiveness, wanting a clean break with a program passed in 2003 that a number of lawmakers consider a mistake for their predecessors to have passed in the first place.
Adding another layer to the proceedings is Mr. Snyder’s opposition to forgiving the fees. His administration has pointed to a $35 million hit to the state budget as well as concerns over inequity in allowing some to be forgiven.
All of this sets up what could be an interesting showdown when it comes to negotiations between both chambers and Mr. Snyder.
Support for eliminating a program long bemoaned as being unfair to residents and keeping hundreds of thousands of drivers from having reliable access to get to work is bipartisan and strong. A number of lawmakers who see it as a poorly conceived money grab used to help plug budget gaps in the 2000s under the previous administration say it has to go. Time has also shown the negative affect it’s had on residents.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) was right when he said all sides are “in the same book, they’re just not on the same page yet.” The House and Senate more than likely can hash out a plan that would pass both chambers with a strong majority.
Except, Mr. Snyder opposes the plan, at least the one that provides full amnesty. And the governor seldom declares support or opposition to any bill until it formally reaches his desk, so he clearly feels strongly about the matter.
The most recent example of this story playing out was when Mr. Snyder vetoed legislation that would have accelerated the phaseout of applying the state sales tax to the value of a trade-in when purchasing a vehicle. Mr. Snyder tends to draw a line in the sand on budgetary matters such as these. For now, the Legislature appears to have blinked, last month putting a potential veto override on that legislation on hold.
Which brings me, finally, to the crux of the matter. If the Legislature were to pass driver responsibility fee legislation that were to be vetoed, would Mr. Snyder’s fellow Republicans want to move on a rare veto override and embarrass a governor of their own party?
Consider the fact that the Legislature has a number of moving parts and, theoretically, over time that $35 million Mr. Snyder has pointed to could be leveled off in the budget by other legislative action.
Also key: what if the most recent attempt at auto insurance reform disintegrates, failing as it has multiple times in recent years? Forgiving driver responsibility fees and putting the program in the dustbin of history could provide Republicans, and really to an extent Democrats as well, a much-needed major legislative accomplishment to fall back on before the election season starts next year and the desire for large policy action falls to the wayside.
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Making Things Up, And Why We Don’t
Once working at a newspaper, this reporter was editing a story when my myopic eyes shot open at a prominent local official quoted as saying, well, quite a number of things the only one of which this family newsletter will publish being, “My ass.” I bellowed across the newsroom for the reporter to get to my desk, demanding to know: “Did he say this? Did he actually say this?”
The reporter almost giggled in response. “You mean you’ll print it?” he asked. Being about six inches taller than him and never mind how many pounds heavier I stood over the reporter and said again, “Did he say this?”
Well, no, the official had not. For reasons known only to himself, the reporter thought we editors were not really reading his copy. So he decided to test us. He was told another such test would lead him out the door, permanently.
This comes back to mind with the recent poll conducted by Politico and Morning Consult showing as many as 46 percent of people asked thinks the press makes things up about President Donald Trump. Not too surprisingly, more Republicans than Democrats think the press makes things up, but no matter what one’s political identity, an uncomfortably disturbing number of people think reporters make things up.
Accusations of “fake news” have not publicly, at least, shown up much in Michigan’s capital. Nor really have they shown up much nationally either, since “fake news” as many people use it refers really to news they don’t like or dispute.
And God knows in the long history of journalism, reporters have made things up. The names of Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair live forever in shame and as a cautionary tale to every reporter of what happens when the story that is too good to be true turns out not to be true. Stephen Glass’s journalistic crimes were captured in a 2003 movie, “Shattered Glass.” Earlier this year, CNN even found itself caught when it was forced to apologize to Anthony Scaramucci, Mr. Trump’s former communications chief, retract the story he was cited in and several of its reporters resigned.
Reporters have also been hornswoggled by folks who made stuff up and passed it off as news. An editor I once knew talked about how as a young reporter at a country weekly he wrote an item phoned in about a chap driving to Florida for the winter in his new Cadillac. Turns out, the chap was a homeless alcoholic. He wrote a furious column about the people who called in the fake news, and then they wrote back that they could do whatever they wanted with their newspaper.
Which brings us to now, to here, to what we do, and have done in this state, reporting on state government and politics for 56 years.
We ain’t dopes here. We’re not liars and fabulists. Our only agenda is to report news, actual news, stuff that is and can be confirmed. We have sat on more stories than I care to recount because they couldn’t be confirmed, so we weren’t running them. There have been many, many days when everyone in this office has pounded telephone keypads simultaneously searching out a confirmation as quickly as possible for a story. When we have to keep a source’s name out of a story, there is a real person behind that anonymous confirmation and we can get back to him or her if needed. We have spiked stories that didn’t pan out.
We only stay in business through our subscribers’ trust that they can count on what we report. That’s it. End of story.
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What Would It Take For Bentivolio To Regain Congressional Seat?
In short, another miracle.
Kerry Bentivolio would argue he got a raw deal from the Republican Party when he was ousted from his seat in 2014 after serving only one term, but he is not likely to convince any party leaders to see the error of their ways. So how does he win the primary?
First, he needs to hold onto nearly every vote he got in the 2014 primary. With the current field of five, he probably needs 20 percent of the vote, plus one. He pulled in about a third of the vote that year.
So far, he has shown that he can hold at least some of his base. That 33.6 percent of the 2014 primary vote was 21,252 individual voters. In the 2016 election, where he ran as an independent, he pulled in 16,610 votes. Of course, that accounted for only 4.4 percent of the general election vote, and he certainly lost some who liked him but could not bring themselves to vote other than Republican.
His struggle in retaining those votes is he ran as the outsider in both 2012 and 2014. This election, he would share that with Lena Epstein, and Ms. Epstein will be much better funded.
It is possible Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski could chip away at that vote as well. He has been out of elective office for several years and is likely to run toward the right.
His next gambit, then, is to get more people in the race. At least two, Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) and Rep. Michael McCready (R-Bloomfield Hills), are still mulling a run.
More candidates lessens the percent needed to win and brings Mr. Bentivolio’s base closer to a plurality.
Finally, he needs to hope that President Donald Trump can gain support in the district. While Mr. Trump won Oakland County, the Republicans who inhabit the 11th U.S. House District were not overly enamored with him.
Mr. Bentivolio will certainly run as a Trump Republican, and if that becomes the popular position by August 2018, can he then convince voters he is more in Mr. Trump’s mold than former Rep. Kurt Heise and Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), who are likely among the frontrunners at this point because of their elective experience?
Again, without funds to match Ms. Epstein, a fervent Trump supporter, Mr. Bentivolio is not likely to make headway there.
It seems his best bet for taking back the seat at this point would be for all of the other candidates to hire Don Yowchuang to lead their petition drives, a strategy that has worked well for him in the past.
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