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Legislative Panel: Leadership more amenable to FOIA expansion

February 6, 2019

Four key legislative leaders Friday morning told the Michigan Press Association annual meeting that legislative leadership is more amenable to expanding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) coverage to the Legislature and the Governor’s office than it was last session.

“Sen. (Mike) Shirkey has worked on FOIA throughout his time in the Legislature,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland). “I think the relationship between the Majority Leader and the Speaker and the Governor, there’s far more positive discussions going on, on any of these issues.” 

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) contends with himself and Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) in the upper chamber “we’re getting the band back together” on FOIA reform. 

“I believe Sen. Shirkey when he says he is a transparency hawk,” Moss said. “I think we have leadership in place in both parties, in both chambers to, at long last, get something done. 

“We’re fighting to become the 49th state to do this. If 48 other states can make transparency work, we can,” Moss added. 

Lisa McGraw, lobbyist for the Michigan Press Association, says she’s more optimistic about FOIA reform this session than she’s ever been. 

In addition to FOIA reform, Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) said the legislature needed to push legislation requiring financial disclosure for candidates seeking state office. He noted that Wayne County requires such disclosures, while the state doesn’t. 

“We’re one of the only states that does not require candidates for state government to disclose their financial interests,” Rabhi said. 

During her luncheon address, Whitmer noted that her cabinet members made financial disclosures available and she’d support legislation requiring such disclosures. 

On road funding, all the lawmakers on the panel, Stamas, Rabhi, Moss and Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona) admitted it’s an issue that has to be tackled, although no one came out supporting the proposed 47-cent gasoline tax hike offered up a few weeks ago.

“In my first term, we did increase the gas tax and registration fees,” said Cole. “To put it bluntly, we need to see that money continue to roll out before we make any other massive changes.” 

The Mancelona Republican and former chair of the House Transportation Committee said if the state isn’t careful and accelerates road spending too fast, “We’re going to run into issues of shortages with material and workers. We need to show our constituency that we’re doing the best we can with the dollars right now.” 

Moss argued that lawmakers and the public need to realize state government isn’t going to cut its way to better roads. 

“I think if there was a mandate in 2018 from both parties, it was to fix the roads here in Michigan,” he added. “It’s going to take $2 billion a year to fix the roads.” 

Stamas said with moving an additional $1.2 billion to the roads over the past four years, “We are going for the long-term versus what we saw for decades before that.”

He noted the state still owes from the $5 billion in road funding former GOP Gov. John Engler borrowed. His office notes that state trunkline interest payments have been $161 million a year for the past four years — something the public doesn’t realize we’re paying down from the 1990s. 

The new Senate Appropriations chair also questioned the wisdom of solving road funding with a massive gas tax increase, given the changing mix of fuel-efficient cars and ride-sharing.

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