Pressure builds on Michigan Republicans for roads plan to avoid shutdown

Governor Whitmer

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer presented her budget proposal to fix Michigan’s roads and bridges in March. Since then, Republican leaders have discussed options privately and no concrete compromise has been reached, though they say they’re not yet concerned about a government shutdown. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

August 29, 2019: Michigan House Dem leader says Whitmer’s 45-cent gas tax is probably dead

With just over a month to go until the Oct. 1 deadline for a completed state budget and roads funding plan, pressure is building on Lansing Republicans to offer their own vision for funding more than $2 billion in Michigan road and bridge repairs. 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, both Republicans, to discuss options on Thursday.

“At this juncture, I’m expecting the Republicans to finally come with an alternative,” Whitmer told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “And we’ll see what it is.”

She’s referring to an alternative to the proposal she introduced in a budget presentation in March: a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax to fund around $2.5 billion in additional annual funding experts agree is necessary to fix the state’s crumbling roads and infrastructure. Republicans call her plan a non-starter, while Whitmer and others insist significant new revenue is needed to fix the state’s infrastructure. 

Even state business leaders — traditionally strong allies of Republican lawmakers — are signaling a revenue-neutral path won’t cut it.

Republicans insisted Wednesday they have offered alternatives. 

“They gave her a couple of different ideas and alternatives a while back and she’s been sharing some of her thoughts and making counter proposals, but at this point they’re not limiting the discussion to any one thing,” Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for the House Republicans, told Bridge Magazine. He wouldn’t specify what those options are.

“A lot of ideas are on the table and they’re going to work together to find the best plan.”

In a radio interview with WJR-AM last week, Shirkey said he, Chatfield and Whitmer will be ready to announce “the general direction” of a roads proposal by the end of August. Senate Republican spokeswoman Amber McCann confirmed that they’re still on track to reach a compromise by then, while D’Assandro said “there’s no sort of timeline” on the discussions. 

Negotiations have gone on long enough that state business leaders are calling for compromise: At a press conference hosted by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber and others Tuesday, leaders said the governor has correctly identified the scope of the problem. 

“We’re here today because we think the time now has come where we need to get this mission over the finish line. We can’t do it without new revenue — substantial new revenue,” said Business Leaders for Michigan President and CEO Doug Rothwell. “Without good roads were not going to be able to continue to grow this economy.”

Meanwhile, officials in the State Budget Office have indicated it may soon be time to start preparing for a government shutdown, which would occur if a deal isn’t reached by October 1 when the next fiscal year begins. Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the office, told Gongwer, a subscription news service that covers state government, that the budget office will eventually need to begin notifying agencies about the protocol of a shutdown, including which workers are essential and which are non-essential. 

“At this point, we here in the Budget Office have not reached out to the departments and agencies to begin any planning,” Weiss told Bridge via email. “We are hoping to see a transportation plan from the Legislature this week” before beginning preparations. 

What’s on the table

Shirkey has said he recognizes the need for extra funding (read: more taxes of some sort) to bring the roads up to par, though he doesn’t agree Whitmer’s 45-cent gas tax increase is the right solution. 

“He hasn’t settled on how much (new revenue will be needed), but he personally believes it will be part of the equation,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus.

The Senate-proposed budget would accelerate a 2015 gas tax planby putting $132 million more into roads this year. However, that still leaves more than a $2.3 billion gap to fully-fund road repairs. 

Chatfield, the House leader, argues it’s possible to find the money for roads repairs in existing revenuesfrom other parts of the state budget. He’s pushed for eliminating the sales tax (which is constitutionally dedicated primarily to schools and local government) on gasoline to ensure all money spent at the pump goes to roads. 

The House-proposed budget makes room for eliminating the sales tax on gas — which would require separately-passed legislation — by accounting for around $542 million in new fuel tax money taken from what would have been sales tax. When the proposal is fully phased in, it would generate around $894 million in annual revenue for roads; still around $1.6 billion short of necessary repairs.

In both cases, the governor has said she won’t sign a budgetthat doesn’t include more money for significant road fixes, nor will she support a plan that diverts funding for schools without a clear way to make up the revenue.

Other options Republicans have considered this summer: 

  • A West Michigan Policy Forum proposal to issue a 30-year, $10 billion bond to fund the teacher pension system, freeing up as much as $900 million annually to replace lost sales tax revenue under the House proposal 
  • Giving local governments the ability to levy local taxes and fees for road repairs by putting it on a ballot for voter approval, like a property tax millage 
  • Promoting innovative materials or methods for building roads and maintaining roads for longer periods

Multiple people close to the legislative process have indicated it’s likely the roads and budget deal will be publicly announced after the governor has already signed on to the plan and they’ve rallied the votes in both chambers of the legislature. 

“We’ve got to make sure whatever we decide as a caucus, working with the House and the governor, is going to have enough votes to pass. That’s what we’re working on,” Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, told reporters Tuesday.

“It’s not quite as easy as it has been the last eight years, but we’ve had a little change in the front office and we have to adapt to it. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Wed, 08/21/2019 - 8:22pm

I don't expect any shutdown, even if no agreement by Oct. 1 ; they can just extend the current budget, I think it is called a continuation budget or something like that. Neither side wants a shutdown.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 8:55am

If I didn't know any better, instead of "unbiased" reporting, Ms. Beggin's pieces are reading as if they were cranked out by the MDP.

Why isn't there any mention that some 40% of Gov. Whitmer's gas tax will be diverted AWAY from roads and into the GF?

Why isn't there any mention of the fact that the legislature is projecting a $1.5-BILLION in increased revenue?

Her constant "omissions" of these facts only call her objectivity (and The Bridge's) into question.

abe bubush
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:15am

Kevin Grand please stop with your false statements. Your party has lied and failed the people of Michigan. You need to admit it and bite the bullet.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:56am

The link is right there for you to click on and read for yourself, Mr. Bubush.

If you cannot, or more than likely will not, take the time to educate yourself, then you're the sole reason behind your own ignorance.

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:20am

Libertarians telling others to get informed; irony is truly dead in Hell World

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:12am

Ah, Bones...maybe you'll care to add to the conversation with something of substance?

Don Sepanski
Sat, 08/24/2019 - 8:07am

Business Leaders for Michigan has been, and still is, the enemy of ordinary Michigan citizens and taxpayers.

It was due to their string pulling we got the largest tax increases in Michigan history, during Snyder's term in office.

You would think "Republicans" would come to their senses.