Republicans must address priority issues

Guest Editorial
Although Democrats made some gains, Republicans still enjoy a healthy 59-51 majority in the state House. Coupled with an overwhelming majority in the state Senate (where members have four-year terms and none were on this year’s ballot) and control of the governor’s office, Republicans will maintain their stronghold on state government through at least 2014.

So, as the Legislature prepares for a lame-duck session beginning this month, and then the new House takes office in January, there are a number of tasks that should be on the Republicans’ priority list.

Among them:
• Clarify the state’s medical marijuana law. There is no doubt that state voters overwhelmingly favor the idea of marijuana being available for at least limited medical use. At the same time, law enforcement officials rightly suspect that some are using voter-approved initiative as a cover for either relaxed recreational use or for more widespread criminal distribution.

Meanwhile, those who may legitimately want to use medical marijuana are hampered by inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the law. Further, while marijuana may be legal to grow for medical purposes, there is no legal way to obtain that first plant.

Finally, the sometimes superficial way that medical marijuana cards are approved by some doctors is questionable at best.

Voters made it clear that lawmakers should resolve this issue.

• Funding for schools has been drastically cut. This is due mostly to two factors: Revenue has declined due to large business-tax cuts, and a chunk of public school funding was shifted to colleges.

As a result, schools saw per-pupil funding slashed by more than $400 per student. In Livingston County’s five school districts alone, that amounts to about $10 million a year.

This comes a couple of years after the Legislature reneged on the so-called Michigan Promise, canceling $2,000 of college scholarships earned by thousands of Michigan high school students.

Republicans have talked a lot about education reform. If it’s not going to be mere talk to disguise an anti-teachers’ union campaign, then they need to show three things: how they will restore funding to public schools; how their legislative efforts so far have improved school performance; and evidence that their business-tax cuts have created new jobs or saved existing jobs.

• Republicans especially need to get off the fence about the proposed new bridge between Detroit and Canada. Gov. Rick Snyder has had to do an end-around to get his pet project past legislative members of their own party.

If Republicans know of a reason why the bridge shouldn’t be built, they need to quit being coy and explain what it is they know that trumps the position of their governor and most business interests in Michigan.

Failing that, they look like they are just doing the bidding of Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the Ambassador Bridge owner who has shown he will spend almost unlimited money in order to protect his monopoly.

Do legislative Republicans work for the public or for Moroun? A direct answer on their recalcitrance to support the bridge would help answer that question.

• Republicans need to stay clear of the damaging and unnecessary conflict that would surround a push for so-called right-to-work legislation. Snyder is right. Such a legislative push would be a distraction that would give Michigan an unnecessary black eye. Unions foolishly overreached when they pushed for Proposal 2 in the Nov. 6 election.

Yet voters saw through it and defeated it. There is no productive reason for Republicans to use that vote as a mandate for right-to-work legislation.

Republicans have earned the voters’ permission to lead. Now, they must responsibly exercise it.