Republicans to Whitmer: Where’s the cash? Doubts on climate plan.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (left) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (right) said Whitmer “missed opportunities” in her Tuesday evening State of the State address — primarily on reforms to state no-fault auto insurance and criminal justice.

Smooth roads and free college would be great, Republican leaders in the state legislature say, but they have one message for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Show me the money.

In a Wednesday morning response to Whitmer’s first State of the State address, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey agreed with Whitmer that the state’s infrastructure needs more funding. However, they want more specifics on Whitmer’s plan and indicated they’re not ready to increase taxes and fees to pay for it.

“We heard a lot of neat ideas last evening and things that the governor believes should be provided to the citizens of our state. What we didn't hear is how that revenue will be accumulated,” Chatfield said. “Michigan only has the money that we take out of the pockets of the people that we serve.”

March 5: Six big proposals in Gretchen Whitmer’s first Michigan budget
Analysis: Eight ways Gov. Whitmer vows to improve Michigan in State of the State

Both leaders defended the 2015 legislation that slowly raises funding for roads over years — Whitmer swiped at the money raised by the plan Tuesday night, saying “incremental fund shifts… just won’t fix the problem.”

Before taking action, Shirkey said, the governor and legislature still need to agree on basics such as the true gap between how much has been allocated to road funding and how much is truly needed, the eventual goal and the timeframe.

“Nobody should assume we're going to solve this problem in one fell swoop,” Shirkey said. “It's too big and doing it piecemeal, I think, was the right way to do it.”

Chatfield said it’s clear the roads need more money but that he’d prefer to look for places in the state budget to cut spending to move funding to roads (rather than jump to a fee increase). He did not offer suggestions of places ripe for a trim.

Related: Medicaid work rules another test for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republicans

“Before we simply say we're just going to go back to the pockets of our taxpayers and raise revenue without cutting anywhere else, I think that's irresponsible because it's our duty to ensure their money is spent correctly,” Chatfield said.

For state-maintained roads alone, experts say an estimated $1.5 billion more is needed annually through 2031 to bring most roads to good or fair condition.

Another point of division is on the environment. While members of the GOP caucus are contesting Whitmer’s controversial change to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, Shirkey indicated he wouldn’t yet support the administration’s plans to address PFAS or climate change.

It’s clear PFAS has contaminated drinking water in communities across the state, Shirkey said, but “it is not clear to me that we’ve created a situation where we know what to do with that level. And that's what I mean about we need to increase our wisdom before we make any decisions.”

Shirkey said the state has plenty of data related to PFAS, but he’s not yet sure how the state should tackle the problem.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not set a federal standard on how much PFAS in drinking water is safe, but several other states facing PFAS crises have set standards of their own. Michigan has no drinking water standard for the chemical, but defers to an EPA advisory, which is significantly higher than a new draft advisory from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

As for climate change: “I just find it fascinating that we can sit here in Michigan in the chamber of the house and think that we can control the climate,” Shirkey said.

Finally, Whitmer is likely to face a major hurdle in the legislature with her ambitious plans to reduce the cost of college for young Michiganders: A proposal to guarantee  two years of debt-free community college or two years of tuition assistance for those who want to attend four-year universities.

Shirkey said the problem with Michigan’s colleges is not the cost but the “value.” Whitmer’s stated goal to increase the number of state residents with a postsecondary credential to 60 percent in just over a decade is “pretty much meaningless” because it doesn’t focus on training in-demand skills over other areas of study.

Whitmer’s 60 percent goal, she said on Tuesday, includes a proposed program offering industry certification or associate degrees in in-demand skills.

There are plenty of options available to make college affordable already, Shirkey said, offering the example of partnerships between private companies and high school students to provide work experience. “We’ve just got to be more creative.”

No-fault auto insurance reform may be a point of compromise for Whitmer and Republican leaders who have said it’s their top priority for the legislative session. Shirkey and Chatfield said they would have liked to hear more from the governor — who mentioned in passing her commitment to hear their ideas on reform — on the topic, calling it a “missed opportunity” from the Tuesday night address.

Shirkey said he wants to eliminate the unlimited lifetime medical benefits associated with the state’s current no-fault auto insurance requirements, and Chatfield said he will push for a program in which consumers can choose among tiers of coverage.

“We call that freedom, and this is America,” Chatfield said. “I do believe consumers need a choice.”

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Agnosticrat 2.0
Wed, 02/13/2019 - 1:00pm

...Chatfield said. “I do believe consumers need a choice.”
We made one in November!

Luke Lee
Wed, 02/13/2019 - 1:25pm

To sum up the GOP response: "These issues [roads, clean water/PFAS, climate change) our too big and complicated to handle. Let's sit on our hands and see how things pan out. Maybe the problems will magically disappear!"

Agnosticrat 2.0
Wed, 02/13/2019 - 2:50pm

That's what they have been doing for the last eight years!

David Waymire
Wed, 02/13/2019 - 3:17pm

MSU economist Charles Ballard points out that our state and local taxes as a share of the overall economy are below the national average. So we have proven low taxes get us a mediocre at best economy -- we rank 31th of the 50 states in per capita income, and 33rd in unemployment rate -- and get us poor roads and infrastructure and education. If we were just at the national average in state and local taxes, we would have $3.5 billion more to invest in infrastructure and people -- the things that attract the kinds of businesses that pay more and have more secure jobs. Now, if we can just find some leadership....

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 6:22pm

David. Would love to see data showing MI a low tax state. Everything I find shows us consistently in the middle, report after report. Just one of the newer, And don't find much else. Your contention that high taxes drive prosperity doesn't fly either, Connecticut and IL are fiscal basket cases in spite of being near the tops for taxes. Even states such as CA and NY have very concentrated islands of wealth in over all very poor states. I've lived in both.
Unemployment rates are all over the place to point of meaninglessness. The income figures you use do not reflect cost of living in each state making them completely worthless. Michigan having gone through an almost existential economic dislocation, I'd contend is doing fairly well. And overall this is just taking a snap shot at a high point in the business cycle rather than proof we should jump off that cliff. But I enjoy your comments.

John P
Wed, 02/13/2019 - 6:59pm

Republicans have for 30 years failed to address the problems of the State, instead using the universal tonic of "Tax Cuts" to show how responsible they are to voters. AS a result we are left with roads that are a mess, and colleges that cost more and provide less return each year. Businesses need infrastructure to grow and thrive. If our state doesn't INVEST it can expect to continue to decline. The same is true for college, because human resources need investment in order to grow. I cannot imagine how students today can graduate saddled by so much debt. Again, the State must Invest in human resources. I think we have had enough of legislators who bury their heads in the sand on issues and solutions that are self-evident.

Al Churchill
Wed, 02/13/2019 - 7:23pm

The Republicans wouldn't have near the visibility they currently have if they hadn't gerrymandered Michigans' voting districts. At the same time they were giving twenty million dollars of public money to a private developer, they were raiding sorely needed money from the school aid fund. The fact that they did nothing to fix the roads during their eight years in power is axiomatic to what they are. Finally, the Michigan League for Public Policy indicates in a study that Republicans have shifted the tax burden away from the well to do to the point that only 2% of the state budget comes from business sources. They are directly responsible for our poor roads and struggling schools.

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 9:08am

Right to Work. Lower business taxes. Snyder/Engler panacea. How's that working for us? All that extra cash generated by those plans should be going back to infrastructure. Where the heck is it? Check stockholder's pockets. Maybe it's in there somewhere.

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 9:09am

And Republicans on "where's the Money" whose fault is that. Yours

R. M. Barron
Thu, 02/14/2019 - 9:44am

The Majority Party in our Legislature apparently has a plan to address road, education and environmental deficiencies in our state which seems to be: let's not ask the public to pay for the services we all need but rather let's wait and see if the tooth fairy will solve our funding concerns.

Mike P
Thu, 02/14/2019 - 10:29am

Let's try looking at the $1.8 billion tax break given to businesses annually for starters. In the meantime, Nero fiddles.

Craig Reynolds
Thu, 02/14/2019 - 3:58pm

"Experts say an estimated $1.5 billion more is needed annually through 2031 to bring most roads to good or fair condition." And the first item on the agenda for Snyder and the Republican Legislature had been a $1.9 Billion tax break for business, with utter disregard for the State-wide impact on roads, and schools, and just about everything that had once kept Michigan's ratings as a desirable State near the tops in the Nation. Thanks a whole hell of a damn lot, Rick & Co.

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 5:16pm

We are getting what we paid for. When the post war generation built the infrastructure we have enjoyed for more than half a century and which we have allowed to crumble, they paid for it. We have elected legislators who promised to cut taxes. They have done that even though most of us haven't realized much of an increase in our spendable income. Why? Trickle down economics does not now and never has worked as promised. So legislators play a shell game with revenue. The results are poor roads and declining schools. We have only ourselves and our narrow sites selfishness to blame.

Robert McCloy
Fri, 02/15/2019 - 9:18am

I drive a lot in my work, and fully support paying higher gas taxes and fees to generate money needed to fix the roads. Unlike these Republican freeloaders I understand that you get what you pay for.

Sat, 02/16/2019 - 12:25pm

You are mis-stating their position. Currently we tax drivers based on their driving and use that money for schools. Makes sense this should go to roads, that is their position. Was a dumb idea from the start unless you're just looking for an excuse to call them names?