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5 things Michigan Republicans want in 2018

By Lindsay VanHulle/Bridge Magazine • Jan 18, 2018 at 5:00 PM

When the Michigan Legislature returns to work Wednesday after a holiday break, the November general election will be fewer than 10 months away.

That’s when all 148 legislative seats — 110 in the House, 38 in the Senate — will be up for grabs. History suggests that the more time elected officials spend campaigning for voters’ support, the less time they spend in Lansing doing the jobs voters send them there to do. That’s one reason major legislation can be elusive in an election year.

Here are five top Republican legislative priorities this year:

Dropping driver responsibility fees

Both the House and the Senate passed bipartisan plans to do away with Michigan’s harsh driver responsibility fees, created in 2003 to charge drivers for such things as driving with an expired license, without insurance or under the influence of alcohol.

But the House and Senate disagree on how best to fix the problem.

The fees sent roughly $100 million each year to a budget-crunched state, but critics say they created new employment barriers in cities like Detroit because drivers who failed to pay the fees had their driver’s licenses suspended — and then had to pay back the old fees along with another $125 fee to get their licenses back.

More than 317,000 people statewide owe hundreds of millions of dollars in these fees.

In 2014, the Legislature gradually phased out the fees, with the target for them to stop being assessed by October 2019. The House’s current legislation would require the state to stop collecting any outstanding fees as of Sept. 30 — immediate full forgiveness — while the Senate version would end collection of fees that have been on the books for at least six years by that date.

Both chambers would fully phase out the fees by 2018, rather than 2019.

“We haven’t come to an agreement on that yet,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a Republican from West Olive. “I think there’s a way for us to provide folks with driver responsibility fees a path to get a license.”

Improving mental health services

Leonard has said improving Michigan’s mental health services is a top priority since he started as speaker last year. He formed a bipartisan task force over the summer focused on ways to improve access to consistent services, including care and rehabilitation, education and job training, veterans’ support, substance abuse, law enforcement training and improving mental health courts within the criminal justice system.

“That task force recently completed its work and will soon introduce legislation and begin hearings on wide-ranging reforms in the state House,” said D’Assandro, Leonard’s spokesman.

He declined to offer details.

Changes to state income taxes

A federal income tax cut President Trump signed into law last month is the impetus for legislation to offset any potential state income tax increases, Snyder's office said Monday.

Snyder on Monday proposed legislative changes to allow Michigan residents to continue to claim personal exemptions on state income tax returns, as well as boost the state’s personal exemption to $4,500 by 2021.

The problem for Michigan is that state taxpayers currently can claim a $4,000 exemption for every exemption they note on their federal income tax return, but the $4,050 federal personal exemption was eliminated in favor of a higher standard deduction.

Snyder’s office, citing a Michigan Department of Treasury analysis of federal tax changes, estimated Michiganders would pay $840 million in extra taxes in 2018 and more than $1.6 billion extra in 2019 if state personal exemptions aren’t allowed.

“We are putting Michigan families first, by working to enact a simple and fair solution to fix the unintended consequences of the federal tax plan,” Snyder said in a statement.

House and Senate Republicans also are interested in tax reform. Some legislators have talked about rolling back Michigan’s 4.25 percent income tax rate.

The House already tried, without success, to cut Michigan’s 4.25 percent income tax last February. It’s uncertain whether it will try again.

Critics of an income tax rollback point to pressing budget needs that require more state investment, such as to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Repealing prevailing wage law

Meekhof said the Senate expects to spend time this year on prospective ballot issues that could go before voters in November — with repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage law a top priority.

Senate Republicans favor a ballot proposal that would repeal prevailing wage, which requires union-scale wages and benefits be paid on public building projects. Proponents of repeal tried to get the measure on the ballot in 2016, but failed to collect enough valid signatures from registered Michigan voters.

Should the ballot committee prevail with its petition, it first will go to the Legislature, which can vote to adopt it, reject it or take no action. If lawmakers reject or pass on citizen petitions, they go before voters in November; if they adopt them, proposals go into law and Snyder is unable to veto them.

Meekhof said the Senate is expected to adopt the prevailing wage repeal if it gets that far. Snyder has opposed repealing the law.

Critics, including labor unions and construction trades, say the repeal effort is an attack on unions that will harm the trades’ ability to recruit workers at a time when Michigan faces a talent shortage.

“I can’t imagine it’s going to have a negative impact,” Meekhof said of repeal. “When a local community or a school system or college builds a building, the taxpayers don’t have to pay more for the same qualified building. That’s the big plus.”

Studies are mixed on whether repealing prevailing wage actually saves money.

Meekhof said the Senate’s Republican majority also is expected to push back against ballot proposals to allow recreational marijuana use and create an independent committee to redraw legislative districts after the next census, should either petition be certified to appear on the ballot. Ballot committees behind both proposals have submitted signatures to the state.

Improve skilled trades education

D’Assandro said the House wants to see the Senate adopt a package of bills that recently cleared the House intended to improve career-technical education in K-12 schools.

The bills would allow for people with private-sector work experience to teach vocational courses without having a formal teaching credential. They also would require the state to develop a curriculum around career development for students and allow K-12 teachers to count internships, externships or other work experience with employers toward professional development requirements.

The Snyder administration has made skilled trades promotion a priority, including improving career counseling, providing schools with access to equipment and a renewed emphasis on vocational training.

“Michigan has hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs waiting for the right person with the right skills,” D’Assandro told Bridge. “Our school system needs to do a much better job preparing students for these open positions and encouraging and developing the skills that can provide them with a brighter future.”

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