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Wednesday, January 9,2013

10 issues to watch in '13

by Kyle Melinn
Just when you thought Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature’s 2011 mojo petered out in 2012, out pops right to work, the phase-out of the Personal Property Tax, the long-sought regional transit authority for southeast Michigan and new abortion restrictions.

Smarting Democrats and unions have to be wondering, “What more can they do to us?”

Great question. With the GOP retaining an albeit smaller 59-51 majority in the House and Snyder having another year before he focuses on re-election (if that’s what he wants to do), you can count on the R’s to not stand around in 2013.

Of the 12 issues I mentioned last year, Snyder & Co. tied a bow on six of them, leaving a second six-pack for these guys to start with for 2013. But you can guarantee they won’t stop there. Here are some things on the menu:

1. No Fault Auto Insurance — This one went nowhere after a steady flow of car accident victims and their families shared gut-wrenching stories about how far up a creek they would be without the state’s unlimited lifetime benefit. However, the system is built on a house of cards with drivers paying a higher car insurance assessment every year. In 2011-12 it was $145 a year. That got bumped up to $175 last year and the level is likely to keep growing.

2. Medical marijuana dispensaries — The Legislature took care of Part 1 of its medical marijuana reforms when it made it clear that patients need to have some established relationship with the physician who is giving them their recommendation. Part 2 is more tricky. How do we get pot in the hands of the suffering people? Do we try dispensaries again? Run it through pharmacies? Or keep it as a home-grown operation?

3. “Obamacare” — Conservatives successfully moved the goal posts on establishing a state-run health care registry under the Affordable Care Act all year before completely letting the air out of the football in lame duck. It leaves Snyder and his administration to broker with the feds on some type of joint partnership — except the Legislature refuses to let the state spend any federal money on getting anything going. How long will this confrontation continue?

4. Federal budget picture — Cliff or no cliff, the federal government was going to dial back the amount of money to the states. Of course, the state is running on a shoestring so it’s going to mean fewer benefits for the people who need it the most: the poor.

5. Road funding — The formula is simple: More fuel-efficient cars plus higher gas prices equals lower state gas tax revenues. It’s been an issue since Engler was governor and the situation is at five-alarm status. Snyder’s plan to re-jigger the gas tax means drivers pay a little more. But if scorned Democrats don’t help with some votes, this baby will stall ... again.

6. School choice — Snyder has asked local attorney Richard McLellan to concoct a plan that blows the lid off how public schools operate. The focus is on allowing schools to cater themselves into a specialty that attracts students from around the world. Think of a K-12 system that looks a bit like universities with instructors who are experts in the field as opposed to teachers who go through the traditional education process.

7. Income tax rollback — This purely political issue is bound to return since no Republican incumbent wants to hit any campaign trail without voting to lower the income tax rate. But Snyder thinks the current 4.25 percent rate brings in the proper amount of money and doesn’t have a cut on his priority list. Of course, right to work and stripping benefits from the same-sex partners of public employees wasn’t “on his agenda,” either.

8. More budget problems — The Legislature has itself a $140 million budget problem in 2013 since the 1 percent tax on health insurance policies it created in 2011 didn’t bring in the money lawmakers thought. Now the state has a hole that nobody is eager to fill.

9. Snyder’s unfunded liabilities — Let’s just say the state has a couple of extra pennies left over next year. Our CPA-turned-governor said he wants to use them to continue to pay down the state’s many unfunded liabilities. Yawn. With the schools, cities, universities and health care communities all sticking their hands out, the battle for the table scraps will be fierce.

10. Union blowback — Will they try recalls? A citizen initiative? Another constitutional amendment? Lawsuits? All of the above? Organized labor is not going to take the passage of right to work lying down. One way or the other, labor groups have vowed that right to work in Michigan will not exist after 2014.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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