Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took office in January 2019 after a winning campaign in which she promised to fix the roads. Her proposal toward that goal, a 45-cent increase in state fuel taxes, proved about as popular as a mammoth pothole that rattles your teeth each day during the morning drive to the office. Finding a road solution that the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled state Legislature can agree on remains a priority in Lansing in 2020, said Matt Resch of public relations and public affairs firm Resch Strategies LLC. The new year will also see whether Gov. Whitmer and Republicans can move beyond their fierce battle over the state budget.
As we head toward 2020, what’s the general mood in Lansing these days?
I think the mood is uncertain. A lot of people are just kind of shaken from how the budget process played out this fall. It was unprecedented, really, in the way the budget was passed, and then the vetoes came about and then it was resolved. I think people are really wondering now what the new normal is and what this is going to mean for next year’s budget process.
Will the fallout from the fight over the budget linger into next year?
I honestly don’t think so. I think that it will probably be better and that the level of animosity was probably overblown. It probably wasn’t as bad as it may have seemed, at least personally between the leaders. They hopefully have taken the year to get to know each other better, have learned some lessons of how they work together, and that will pay off next year in a more orderly process.
What’s on the top of the agenda in Lansing for 2020?
The big unanswered question is still the roads. It was the governor’s top priority. I don’t know if it was the top priority (in the state Legislature), but it was near the top, and they both are starting 2020 having not gotten anything done on that. I have to think that continues to be at least the governor’s priority and that will be a big topic of conversation.
There’s talk in Lansing about considering toll roads. How do you think that idea’s going to go over?
No concept of revenue enhancement goes over well in Michigan, so I can’t fathom it’s going to be terribly popular. At the same time, I don’t blame the legislature for looking at that alternative. They need more investment in the roads, and clearly the gas tax is not a way to go, at least right now. I think that they are right to look at those kinds of things to see if there are some innovative approaches that might work.
How will outlooks for slower U.S. economic growth next year affect the agenda in Lansing?
It really should affect their thinking. They need to be aware of the fact that a national recession affects Michigan so much more dramatically than other places and that putting money away into a rainy day fund and making those kinds of fiscally sound decisions is going to be really important to put Michigan in a spot to weather a recession when it inevitably comes.
2020 is an election year for the state Legislature. What do the Republicans need to do to hold power and what do the Democrats need to do to pick up seats or gain control of the state House or Senate?
Republicans need to minimize the drama and any kind of level of, or interpretation of, dysfunction in Lansing as possible. Run as tight of ship as they can and get things done effectively. Democrats need to hope that the president keeps being the president.
What do you want to hear the presidential candidates talk about?
I would like to hear them talk about just how they’re going to get Washington functional again. A lot of the work I do deals with federal and state policy, and people just view Washington right now as a complete wasteland of trying to get anything done. There are a lot of big topics the candidates of course will always focus on, but I think the basic functionality of our federal government and our political process needs to be on top of those things they need to talk about because the biggest ideas they have are not going to go anywhere in the current atmosphere in Washington, regardless of the party.
What would surprise you in 2020 that we will be talking about a year from now?
I would be very surprised if we were talking about a second term for President Trump. I think that he has put himself in a pretty tough spot and would be surprised if that is going to happen. For that to happen, it would require the Democratic Party to nominate the strongest possible candidate, and they have not been great at doing that, either.
What’s one prediction sure to go wrong?
That the legislative race for the state House is going to be really tight. That could go wrong. I think that House Republicans will actually do fine, but most people would predict that with the presidential race, they’re going to have a tough year.