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On Tuesday, as I reported, the voters in Michigan went to the polls to vote on a sales tax increase aimed in part – but only in part – at repairing the state’s disintegrating roads. The turnout was far larger than I expected. Something like one voter in four actually showed up – and the results were a sharp rebuke to Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican establishment in Michigan. Although the Republicans scheduled this vote at a time when only those guaranteed to profit from the measure were apt to be paying attention — and although the road-building lobby outspent the opposition by more than twelve-to-one — the voters rejected the initiative four-to-one. This was the most resounding defeat for a ballot initiative since the current Michigan constitution was adopted in 1963. If Snyder and his not-so-merry men were up for reelection tomorrow, they would be voted out in a landslide. That is what happens when a political party betrays its base.
Of course, Republican voters are used to being betrayed. Republican candidates nearly always tout their conservative credentials. They oppose abortion, they criticize tax increases, they whine about government regulation. But when push comes to shove, very few of them ever do anything for their constituents.
The ballot measure we voted on yesterday was a bipartisan measure supported by the establishment in both parties. Its defeat is a rebuke to Rick Snyder and the Republican leaders in the legislature. But it is also a defeat for the Democrats. It is, in fact, a rejection of the politics of compromise – in which the Republicans get a little something for the business community and the Democrats move us further down the road of total government control. The thing to keep in mind is that the hand in your pocket is not just there for money. That money is the means for micro-managing your life. As I have pointed out frequently in the past, the public provision of medical care will bring with it a requirement that Catholic hospitals perform abortions.
Michigan’s Republicans can take this as consolation. They are not up for reelection right away. They have time to set things right. Whether they will do so remains, however, unclear. I wrote to my state representative and state senator (both Republicans) this morning as follows:
I voted for you both when you were up for election. Like many of your constituents, I am not happy with what you tried to do on Tuesday. If you want to know why the Republican Party in this state is apt to go down in flames the next time the voters have an occasion to exercise their judgment, you might want to read the blogpost I put up yesterday: http://ricochet.com/taxing-time/.
The good news is that you have enough time in which to redeem yourselves. But to do so you will have to cut programs less important than roads. The Democrats will scream bloody murder if you do, but that might attract voters to your party. Otherwise, you are toast.
Best, Paul Rahe
From the latter, I received the following reply a few minutes ago:
I respectfully reject your notion of having to ‘seek redemption’.
There was no ‘doing to’ anyone. One of the wonderments of our nation, the right and ability to vote, especially on big issues, is precious.
[Name removed] had nothing to do with the ballot proposal, so your admonishment to him is inappropriate.
As for me, I did vote to put this on the ballot. Not ashamed of that effort at all. Frankly, the best solution for affecting sustainable long term infrastructure funding will include both reprioritizing spending AND the need to find road specific revenue sources.
We can disagree on how much of each (I Believe it’s about half and half).
The most efficient and effective solution should include some changes in what we citizens have enshrined in our Constitution. Those can only happen with voter approval.
A strict legislative solution will not be perfectly designed. It will be subject to the ebb and flow of our ever changing legislative make up.
But it can be done. This problem has existed for over 15 years and it is our current legislature who is pressing to not kick the can down the road.
Toast? Not a word of fear for me. I’ve taken enough tough stands to be a bit used to the heat. I can only do my best and it won’t be perfect because I’m not.
As this suggests, you can outspend the opposition twelve-t0-one and then lose four-to-one and learn absolutely nothing. Some Republicans in Michigan are now arguing that another ballot initiative – one in which every dollar raised by new taxes would be earmarked for roads – would pass.
This is foolishness. What the Republicans did on Tuesday was craven. Instead of passing legislation, which they have the votes to do, they tried to effect a change while dodging responsibility. The voter initiative was adopted by the outgoing legislature after the November 2014 elections. It was aimed at slipping something past the voters while they were not paying attention. To try this trick again would only redouble voter ire.
If the Republicans in Michigan want to survive, they will have to do what they were elected to do – which is to improve the efficiency of the state government without raising taxes. To do this, they will have to bite the bullet and cut. The polling data, for what it is worth, suggests that cutting the programs favored by the Democrats will be unpopular. But I can tell you that allowing the roads to deteriorate further will be even more unpopular.
Voters admire courage and forthrightness – even in those with whom they disagree. They despise cowardice. If the Republicans cut the fat – and there is a lot of it – there will, initially, be outcries. But when nothing much changes in the lives of ordinary Michiganders as a consequence of these cuts, the fury will subside – especially if a massive effort is underway to bring our roads up to snuff.
There is in this a warning to Republicans nationwide – for a great many of the state governments are in their control. There may be a state or two in which raising taxes is justified. But there are not many. The task for the Republicans is to prune. Their task is to eliminate programs that do harm. Their task is to cut back on income redistribution.
Of course, this would require backbone and a grasp of first principles. If the only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is the pace in which we increase the size and scope of the administrative state, the latter are doomed. The problems that we face as a nation are not at the moment chiefly a function of bad management. They have to do with the fact that we are advancing rapidly in the wrong direction.
Rick Snyder and the Republican leadership in Michigan have no idea of the direction in which we should go. They are problem solvers. They listen avidly for squeaky wheels and apply the grease. Sometimes that is enough. But that is not true today.