The political games at play on roads

In the whacky world of politics there are two games that are played on two distinctly different stages. There’s the outside game, whereby the pols trot out front of the media and the whole world and make this pronouncement and that and then retreat to the other stage, the inside game.

Of course, of the two, it’s the inside game where all the decisions are made behind closed doors, with no media spotlight, no public record to review later, and, unless one of the insiders is willing to cough up some details to a nosy reporter, the inside game remains inside.

Hence, the public should be aware that what they see is not what’s going on.

The most recent example involves the governor and the GOP-controlled Legislature. She got in front of the cameras and lectured the Republicans for “being on vacation” while there was work to do. She is still making the point whenever anyone will listen.

But a Republican Senate insider confided the other day that private meetings between the governor and GOP leaders continue to be cordial as they build the trust needed to fix the roads and adopt a new budget.

“She was just playing to the base,” the source theorized, meaning she was looking tough for her supporters.

Likewise, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and his Senate sidekick, Mike Shirkey, have to be equally as careful about keeping a public distance between them and her. The last thing they want is a revolt inside their caucuses over the impression that they are too cozy with the Democratic governor. That’s a one-way ticket to be booted as a leader.

Which brings us to the roads issue, which, as of this read, remains an inside story for the Rs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax plan is very public, very controversial, and also very D-E-A-D.

The GOP leaders are open to raising new revenue, but they get strong resistance from their followers, who are loathe to vote yeah on anything that even smells like a tax hike. Which is why the latest scheme, according to inside sources, is to direct every penny of the 6% sales tax on gas into the roads. Right now, part of the funds go to schools and local governments, and they will want that money back if it’s taken away.

Hence, there is a plan to boost the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon and give all of that back to cities, townships and villages.

They’d like that.

And the leaders want to refinance the teacher retirement system’s $30 billion debt, which would free up about a billion smackers to fix roads. The teachers and governor don’t like that, calling it a risky move that could put the retirement system deeper in debt.

During a recent telephone conference call with Senate Republicans, an inside source confides, “there was push back,” which means the votes to do that stuff remains a work in progress.

The huge question is, can Gov. Whitmer and the GOP guys mold a compromise on the inside that will draw applause once they go outside?

They want to do it, which is a start, but not a guarantee that they’ll pull it off.