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Wednesday, November 24,2010

Still a lot to do for Legislature

by Kyle Melinn

How can the Mike Bishop-led state Senate and the Andy Dillon-led state House seriously close up shop a month early on the claim that there’s nothing left to be done?


If you had nothing on your list to start, it’s quite easy to finish it.


I felt the same way in 2002 when I watched some old grumpy senators close out their political careers by telling some rich philanthropist they didn’t want his $200 million for new charter schools in Detroit because the House couldn’t finish "their work" by 10:30 p.m. on a Friday in December. They were tired and wanted to go home.


This year, after their two-week hunting break, October-long election break and two-month-long summer vacation, the Legislature found a way to squeeze a few days of session into their calendars. Maybe we should consider this a blessing.


The problem is there’s a lot of unfinished business here. Yeah, Rick Snyder is galloping into town with 61 brand-new lawmakers. The Legislature could save all of the state’s problems for them. But why? We elected Granholm, Bishop, Dillon, et. al., to be our public servants for a term ending Dec. 31.


I didn’t give up on the Spartans last week in the fourth quarter versus Purdue. These guys shouldn’t give up on us. Snyder is going to have enough to deal with when he takes office. The least the Legislature can do is take care of some longstanding issues.


For example, the Detroit River International Crossing. We need a bridge connecting Detroit and Canada that doesn’t involve a needless, painful, stop-and-go tour of downtown Windsor. Fourteen stoplights stand in the way of freeway freedom and the Ambassador Bridge. Want to know what life was like in 1950 before the freeway system? Sit in this exhaust-filled traffic jam some time.


The Canadians want this so bad they’re willing to pick up our half of the bill. There’s no financial risk for Michigan. None. There is nothing complicated about this. There is nothing left to study.

Go out with integrity. Prove the state Senate hasn’t been bought and paid for by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Maroun. Everybody already believes it has. Put Michigan in the driver seat before the feds lose patience and build the darn thing with the Canadians and without Michigan labor.

Or fix our roads. Don’t look now but in five years, half of Michigan’s roads won’t be good. That’s not me talking. That’s the Michigan Department of Transportation. We’re not collecting enough money from our gas tax to meet our federal match requirement. That’s $700 million to $800 million going to Ohio, Indiana or any other state that wants it. That’s 180 road projects delayed, 700 miles of roads not fixed and 300 bridges that will not be "sufficiently maintained."


Raise the gas tax a couple of pennies. Nobody will notice the difference in their credit card statements. They will notice the car-eating potholes down the road.


How about Pure Michigan funding? Tourism is on the upswing in Michigan, thanks in part to an aggressive national advertising campaign that makes our state look like Eden. To keep it going, the Legislature needs to pass an extra $25 million. We have the money in the bank, but taxing out-of-staters who rent automobiles at Detroit Metro Airport makes more sense in the long term.


Then there’s health care reform. Call it "Obamacare" or whatever you want. There is no way on God’s green earth the president is going to sign a bill repealing his health care reform bill. The one he labored over for a year of his presidency. No way.


We need to prepare for the changes here in Michigan. Up until now, the Legislature has handed over its authority on the matter to state bureaucrats, who have probably been more efficient anyway.


Stopping insurance companies from denying children health insurance because of pre-existing conditions is a gimme. Banning insurance companies from instituting lifetime benefits caps is another one. Passing these bills now puts Michigan in a better position down the road.


The changes will be made eventually. There’s no reason not to do it now.


Stop the income tax rollback. A $1.6 billion hole in next year’s budget is going to get worse when the state’s 4.35 percent income tax rate rolls back a tenth of a percentage point for the next four years.


Senate Republicans could help Snyder solve $100 million of his inherited budget hole by at least freezing this rollback.


I can think of others — but what’s the diff? The Legislature isn’t going to let any of these stand in the way of leaving town.


(Kyle Melinn, news editor of the political newsletter MIRS, is at melinn@ lansingcitypulse.com.)

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