Governor Rick Snyder walked into my office last Friday afternoon to discuss issues he wants to champion in 2015 and to hammer further on road funding. I knew the man who likes to tout “relentless positive action” had a list of matters he’d like to discuss in detail.
But I wanted to discuss something that was not on the governor’s radar or on his laundry list, but an issue that matters in the everyday lives of Detroiters: high insurance premiums.
So when the request came from the governor’s office for an end-of-year sit-down interview, I welcomed it differently because I wanted to hear from the governor, without any filters, his take on an issue that is affecting the quality of life in Detroit. The bankruptcy is over but it does not and will not change how much people who live in Detroit are paying for auto insurance. The bankruptcy is over, but there are still lingering issues to deal with and first among those is the ridiculous insurance rates in the city.
I asked Snyder point-blank if he would support an effort to reduce the exorbitant insurance rates in Detroit in light of what Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has already begun.
“Well I’m concerned about the issue and I’m interested in the issue. There is a whole related area in the city of Detroit and other urban areas where insurance rates are very high,” Snyder said. “The way I view it is that the mayor has been the lead person on that. He actually hasn’t asked me specific things (relating to insurance) at this point but I’m open to that because I believe that insurance is more expensive (in Detroit) than I’d like to see it.”
The governor then proceeded to discuss insurance fraud and medical fraud, etc. as factors that also lead to high insurance. Yes, those are vaild points. But they are points that Republican legislators have always played at the expense of doing something to mitigate high rates in urban cities. The bottom line is that Snyder has gone on the record that he will support the mayor’s effort to address what we knew all along to be insurance redlining.
We can get into the technical debate about density and population and crime as is with big cities, but it makes no sense that urban centers across the state, as Snyder acknowledged in this interview, are the only places you will find rates that just don’t make sense.
I was surprised to hear from the governor that the mayor has not enlisted his support yet on an issue that will meet stiff challenge from the Republican legislature which often serves as the mouthpiece of the Insurance Institute of Michigan.
I know by the time this column is circulated the Insurance Institute of Michigan will be kicking and screaming about Snyder sending a strong signal that he is ready to have the insurance conversation in a post-bankruptcy Detroit. I can imagine that they will start calling their friends in Lansing to begin to put the brakes on an issue that is partly responsible for the high cost of living in Detroit and to try to get the governor off the matter right away.
And I expect to get another letter from the Insurance Institute, the defenders of insurance redlining in Detroit, that this is not the case, and why I keep using the word “redlining” in my columns.
Mayor Duggan should now move with all deliberate speed to bring the governor into the coalition to address a major quality of life matter.
Duggan’s legacy as mayor hangs on his ability to demonstrate clearly how he has upgraded the quality of life of Detroiters.
We can balance the budget all day or get into the minutiae of how the budget should be presented, but if residents are not feeling any movement for the better in their living standards, it is a waste of time. It will just be another rigmarole from one mayoral administration to another. And we’ve been there before the dawn of the Duggan administration where leaders used explosive issues like insurance redlining as political football, organized press conferences and offered nice-sounding remarks that played to the sentiments of Detroiters, and called it a day.
In the case of Duggan, he has commissioned a study into how rates can be brought down. But beyond the study to look at how insurance must be addressed lies the issue of a political will to take it on.
It won’t be an easy fight. But if the governor has expressed willingness to be a “supportive partner” in tackling insurance in Detroit, as he told me, then Duggan should have no excuse for not bringing the full force of his office and the city council behind this crucial matter.
I’ve studied politicians long enough to understand that they can get any deal done that they want to see through.
When Snyder wanted a new bridge connecting the U.S. and Canada, even the billionaire owner of Ambassador Bridge, Matty Maroun, who was vehemently opposed to it, could not stop him. Because the governor was determined to make sure that it happened. With the support of the federal government, the project is moving forward.
I’d like to see that same determination that was used to get the new bridge project going used on the insurance issue because getting high insurance costs under control in Detroit will be like the fight over the Affordable Care Act.
“It is not justified. It doesn’t matter if you have a perfect driving record, never been in an accident. Most Detroiters are paying more a month for car insurance than the car payment itself,” Duggan said in his first State of the City speech.
Another issue I raised with Snyder is the configuration of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes that some GOP lawmakers want to tamper with so that in 2016 a Republican presidential candidate can easily win the state. Snyder showed no appetite for House Bill 5974 that would split the electoral votes.
“I don’t think this is the right time to make it an issue. The winner take all worked for a long time. My view is if you are going to have that discussion, the right time will be 2018, 2019 before (the next) Census and before reapportionment,” Snyder said.
Before Snyder left my office I asked him again, specifically, on insurance in terms of what he would do if the mayor asked him for help.
“I’m open-minded. Hopefully people can see I care about the problem. I want to work hard on it as we have something that is doable, that makes sense and is going to help people and at a reasonable cost,” Snyder said.