Michigan's GOP governor, lawmakers don't always agree

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's job approval ratings have climbed steadily this past year, but a battle may be brewing with conservative GOP lawmakers pushing to avoid setting up a health insurance exchange and curtail new teachers' access to traditional pensions.
AP Wire
Aug 4, 2012

 

Snyder usurped GOP lawmakers this year to launch a new international bridge with the Canadians and could do the same to get a federally required health exchange in place. The former accountant and venture capitalist may still look a tad uncomfortable in the political arena, but the steely eyed former businessman doesn't like to lose.

He told The Associated Press in a Friday interview at the Ann Arbor offices of his former investment company, Ardesta, that he's giving House Republicans time to find out more about health insurance exchanges. But he's not afraid to act if lawmakers drag their heels, as she showed with a new bridge spanning the Detroit River.

The exchanges, required under the federal health care law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, are designed to enable individuals and small businesses to comparison shop online for insurance policies. Online shoppers also could find out what kind of federal government subsidies they would get toward their premiums.

Two GOP-headed House committees have held hearings on what the federal health care law requires. But they haven't voted.

The Senate already has approved the health exchange, which is expected to help 500,000 residents buy insurance. The federal government could step in with its own exchange if Michigan hasn't made progress by mid-November.

Snyder declined to say Friday if he's considering issuing an executive order creating the exchange if the House doesn't act soon, but noted many states still are figuring out what to do.

"I'm not sure how realistic all those deadlines are," he said. He added that federal officials "may have to go back and re-look at those, given where most states are at in this process."

Snyder also said he's weighing many factors as he considers whether Michigan should expand its Medicaid program. The national health care law will let states insure residents with income up to 138 percent of the poverty line, rather than 100 percent, as it does now. That could mean coverage for 500,000 more Michigan residents. The state's Medicaid program currently covers about 1.9 million people, most of them children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Expanding coverage could save the state money it otherwise would spend on uncompensated care and mental health services, Snyder said. But he also has to look at how much the state must spend once the federal government stops covering all of the added costs and switches to covering 90 percent of them by 2020.

"We're just starting to get financially sound from a state perspective," Snyder said. "I want to make sure we don't get back in the hole too much."

The governor does think he's making progress in his efforts to persuade Senate Republicans to let new teachers keep a hybrid pension system that combines a traditional pension with a 401(k)-style plan. Opponents say giving new teachers only the 401(k)-style plan means the state wouldn't be on the hook for future retirement benefits if pension fund investments didn't do well.

But state budget director John Nixon has said teachers hired since 2010 largely pay the hybrid plan's premiums themselves. Switching to a defined contribution plan would double the amount the state has to contribute to new teachers' retirement benefits, increasing the drain on the school aid fund by $400 million this year and about $8 billion over the next 30 years.

Snyder had hoped the GOP-run Senate would follow the House's lead and pass the teacher benefits bill July 18, the only day lawmakers convened this month, but that didn't happen.

Snyder said discussions with the lawmakers continue, and notes some of the delay is created by the topic's complexity.

"Most people don't sit around talking about pension reform and pension rules and funding of pension plans. So that's taking us more time," he said. "Hopefully, you'll see movement" when lawmakers return for their only session day this month on Aug. 15.

Even as he wrestles with the doubts of GOP conservatives, the first-term governor is getting better marks statewide. Lansing-based EPIC-MRA found that 45 percent of 600 likely Michigan voters polled last week gave Snyder a positive job rating, compared to 37 percent last August.

 

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