House Minority Leader Richard HAMMEL (D-Mt. Morris Twp.) said he looks forward to working on transportation issues next year, a topic that has also been high on Gov. Rick SNYDER's list. "Despite the arguments and the rhetoric that you see, we still want to work on stuff, we just want to be included," Hammel said in a year-end interview with MIRS.
Hammel said he wants to see a statewide discussion come out of a workgroup on transportation issues. Ideally Republicans and Democrats would draft legislation together after the issues are discussed around the state, Hammel said.
Michigan's roads will need at least $1.4 billion more in revenue per year to be kept in decent condition, according to a report released this fall by the bipartisan House transportation funding workgroup (See "Bipartisan Report: MI Roads Need Extra $1.4B Annually," 9/19/11).
Snyder gave a special message on transportation and proposed several ways to address the funding shortfall. House Democrats believe something does need to be changed, Hammel said.
One shared transportation objective of the House Democrats and Snyder at the beginning of the year was the second crossing between Detroit and Windsor, the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).
The bridge could be part of the House Dems' agenda again in 2012, and Hammel said he hopes Snyder will put it on his agenda again as well.
Seeing the bridge fail in the Senate this fall was "one of the most puzzling" things that happened this year, especially for a project that had the backing of people in both parties and former Republican governors, Hammel said.
"I think the bridge should be a big thing because it puts people to work and it sets us up for future trade," Hammel said. "It's just too good of a thing for everybody to ignore, so it will certainly be a thing we think should be done in the next year."
Democrats have also found agreement with the Governor on the issue of setting up a health exchange in Michigan.
Snyder has said he wants to take action to avoid the federal government stepping in under the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack OBAMA.
There is also more than $9 million in federal funding that the state can draw down, but House Republicans have been leery of having anything to do with the program conservatives refer to as "Obamacare."
A Senate plan would create the Michigan Health Marketplace, but the House Health Policy Committee could be coming up with its own plans.
"I've heard so many rumors I don't know what the heck to believe, but I can tell you most of them haven't been good," Hammel said.
For that reason he plans on trying to work with the House leadership to see if there is a way to make some changes, he said.
Any time you have an opportunity to draw federal money and establish your program as opposed to being mandated by the feds, it's a mistake to not do so, Hammel said.
Not everything is rosy between the Governor and House Democrats, however. When MIRS asked Hammel whether he feels the state business climate has improved as a result of the changes made by Snyder and the Republican-led legislature, Hammel attributed any positive numbers to the era of former Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM.
"I think any improvement we've seen already . . . any push was the change of what happened in the previous legislature," Hammel said.
Focusing on battery technology and alternative energies has led to "significant investment around the state" and a bump in revenue numbers is due to the auto industry coming back, Hammel said.
"I'm not seeing anything based on what's passed this year," he said. "I don't think people are flocking to the state of Michigan because we took the charter cap off or we enacted the Corporate Income Tax."