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Legislative Leaders Hand Whitmer ‘Menu’ Of Road Funding Options

August 27, 2019

Republican legislative leaders submitted a menu of additional road-funding options to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Thursday, some she’d seen before like bonding against the teacher retirement system. Some she had not.

However, the Governor took a public jab at a key tenant to the Republicans’ plan, which is to replace the sales tax on gasoline with a tax that sends money directly to road repair.

House Republicans passed a budget of various cuts to backfill the $800 million hole in the School Aid Fund and General Fund that would be created from the change, but Whitmer’s press secretary still described the key element this way:

“Their core element cuts education spending by $400 per pupil statewide, which neither fixes the damn roads nor serves the kids.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) took exception to the comment. Spokesperson Amber McCann said the Majority Leader presented road funding options and none of them have a “negative impact on schools.”

“Her nose is going to start growing if she keeps making false statements about funding cuts,” McCann said.

Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield’s (R-Levering) meeting with the Governor was less than an hour and included several options — like bonding against the teacher’s retirement system — that she’s been presented with before. Others were new proposals that haven’t been publicly discussed.

“Parts of it, she was genuinely intrigued. Parts of it, she was predictably not so keen,” Shirkey said. “We presented a menu of ideas that, put together, would make a very good road solution. We asked her to contemplate this menu of things and we’ll get back together and put the puzzle pieces together.”

When the three meet again is in Whitmer’s hands, he said.

While not getting into detail, Shirkey said there’s an “honest effort to find new revenue for roads.”

Chatfield said “real progress” was made Thursday and he’s “optimistic” about a road funding solution. The Speaker said he didn’t have concerns about finishing the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget or a road deal by the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year.

“We all need to understand the fact that we’ve been there before,” he said. “We need to act like it. We need take a deep breath. This is how negotiations are made.”

Shirkey referred to it as “student syndrome” in that the project will take as long as you’re given to accomplish the task. The budget needs to be done by Oct. 1 and it will be done by that time.

Reporters asked Chatfield if the votes exist in the Republican caucus to raise the gas tax.

“This needs to be a consensus plan. We’re working on a consensus plan,” he said.

Chatfield was then asked what he is advocating in terms of new money for roads. The Governor wanted to raise $2.5 billion more through her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon gas tax. Shirkey was trying to scale that back to $1.5 billion.

“We need to ask, ‘What’s the distribution formula look like?’ A lazy thing to do is to simply throw out a number. We need to think about how we can spend taxpayer dollars responsibly and talk about where that money goes.”

The Speaker acknowledged that Southeastern Michigan roads are in worse shape than those in Northern Michigan, but “I want to make sure that Northern Michigan taxpayers are not paying for roads in Southeast Michigan.”

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