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Back to the future on road fund funding?

September 8, 2015

Courtesy of MIRS News

The dynamic of 2014, in which then-House Speaker Jase Bolger became the outlier behind closed doors in reaching a road funding deal may be happening again in 2015 with Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt Pleasant), sources are telling MIRS.

The other members of the legislative quadrant — Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) — are in agreement with the Governor on the big pieces of a long-term road funding plan, MIRS is told.

But the impression from some in the room is that Cotter’s position is standing out from the rest of the group, maybe even further than where Bolger was last year. 

Gov. Rick Snyder’s team is trying to pull everyone together in hopes of fulfilling his longest outstanding policy priority. 

But observers see a large part of the issue being Cotter’s 63-member caucus is much more conservative than Bolger’s 59-member caucus from last year. Also, the caucus members who helped install Cotter into leadership are the same caucus members who were pushing back against Bolger cutting a deal that included $1.2 billion in all new revenue during the 2013-14 term. 

Following another meeting Wednesday with Snyder and the quadrant, Cotter said “perceptions may vary” on what’s going on during the quadrant meetings, but his perception is that “we’re all trying to help other. The challenge is trying to bring everyone together on a landing spot. 

“I don’t see this as everyone else against the House, or vice versa,” Cotter said. 

That may be true, but simply based on what each caucus and the Governor has put out publicly as a possible road funding plan, the House Republicans are the only caucus to not offer a solution in which more than half the funding stream comes from new revenue. 

House leadership attempted to muster the votes for a plan that relies on $600 million in new revenue and $600 million out of the General Fund, but Snyder and Democrats saw the hit on the existing budget as too much, so the House R’s pulled the plug. Now, it’s not clear where House Republicans are going, the fear being they are retreating back to a position of wanting little to no revenue. 

All four legislative leaders seemed optimistic coming out of Tuesday’s quadrant meeting with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Before the Wednesday quadrant meeting Snyder told the media that he supported comments from Calley last week in which he said “long-term solvency is as important as fixing the roads.” 

“We need to be fiscally responsible,” Snyder said. “I don’t want to imply anyone involved in this process is not being fiscally responsible, but it’s important that we recognize that as we look at this budget, the state of Michigan has done very well the last few years in terms of doing things the right way in terms of solving many structural issues. 

“I don’t think we should be looking at doing a cut so large to the General Fund that it would create problems in other areas. 

“So $600 million would be at the very outside boundaries of what could be possible. Very challenging to do that without significant cuts,” Snyder said. 

Officially, the words from participants of the quadrant remain along the same “positive discussions” “moving forward” line. However, there’s a feeling inside the room from some that $600 million in existing General Fund revenue without other budgetary changes — which was the House’s last offer — isn’t flying . . . if it’s even on the table any more.

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