The devil is in the details, or as state Sen. Vince Gregory (D-Southfield) put it, in the transparency that should accompany proposals put forward by Gov. Rick Snyder in his State of the State message Tuesday night.
"For the most part, there are issues we all can agree on," said Gregory, who listed the combination of two state departments – health and human services – as one example, "if it will help people."
That something freshman state Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Oak Park) can agree with. Some of those included education, transportation and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but like Gregory, he is concerned about details.
"There are definitely some things we can all get on board with, and he gave some marching orders that Democrats and Republicans can work together on the issues," Wittenberg said.
And another freshman lawmaker, state Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) also was looking for details.
"I would give the governor an incomplete" grade, he said. "The details are in the budget."
Wittenberg and Moss are among the 43 newly elected legislators to take their seats for the first time this session.
Whether the implementation of those goals will be transparent concerns Gregory. He said his concern is that the governor will "abandon those motives and cut staff." Gregory said that those two departments, when combined will have the largest staff at 14,000 of any department, even corrections.
But what concerns Gregory perhaps even more is school funding. "It is a huge concern how schools are funded," he said, noting that the state finance director predicted a budget deficit for 2015. And he wondered whether money would be taken from the school budget to balance the general fund budget.
"That's where we see (the need for) transparency," Gregory said.
Snyder also proposed improving aid for prenatal to third grade education, something Gregory termed "great ideas."
"I'm all for that, but how are we going to pay for it?" he asked, rhetorically.
Moss said that the budget shortfall was due to the "infamous tax shifts."
Gregory and Moss both said they took a look around the room when the governor mentioned broadening the Elliott Larsen human rights act to include protections for the gay and transgender community.
"When we stood up and clapped, I looked around and a lot of Republicans weren't clapping," he said. "Clearly that's an indication (the governor) will have a problem with that. They did not stand up for it."
According to Gregory, "There are some new very conservative legislators. They want to show their own mind." And one way of doing that would be to part ways with the governor on the civil rights issue.
But is an issue on which Moss could find agreement with the governor. Moss, who introduced such an ordinance in Southfield and promised to champion it in the Legislature, characterized the governor's call for civil rights action as "very tempered," but he expressed hope, noting that Sue Snyder, the governor's wife, clapped at her husband's proposal.
"If the governor's wife can clap, then I am encouraged," he said. "I just want this to get passed.
The road question
Gregory said he isn't sure that the 1 cent increase in the sales tax to be used for roads will pass. In fact, though he voted to put it on the ballot, Gregory said he is remaining "neutral" and not endorsing it at this point.
"People really have a problem with it," he said. Added to that, Gregory said, is "there hasn't been a been a really big push for it."
Moss, however, said that he thinks people in his district will vote for something "if they could see tangible results."
Wittenberg thinks that "...something should have been done by the elected officials, but it is what it is now, and we have to deal with this. At this point we cannot go another construction season and not have the resources and plan to fix our crumbling roads."
Getting it done
"We all want to help as much as we can. He talked about making Michigan No. 1 for skilled trades, that I'm on board with. But then you look at the Republicans and they come up with a bill trying to repeal prevailing wage. It's one thing to say it, but another to do it and work together."
Clearly a divide remains in the Legislature.
"I think Gov. Snyder could be a partner. He threw out some things that hopefully would work with bipartisan support, but it is more going to be on the other side because we are in the minority," Wittenberg said.
"I am hopeful and optimistic we will get some things accomplished, but a lot depends on the Republicans wanting to truly reach across the aisle and work together."
Moss also said that he will look for areas of agreement.
And Gregory, who said that he has been appointed as the Democratic chair of the powerful appropriations committee, said his goal is to work with the Republican chairman, look at the issues "and get it done."