As September looms, no Republican proposal yet to fix Michigan’s roads


Details of how GOP House and Senate leaders plan to counter Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase to raise $2.5 billion for road repairs remain mostly under wraps, including from fellow Republican legislators. Whitmer says Republican leaders have not yet shown her a formal plan.

A roads deal between GOP House and Senate leaders and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be announced in as soon as two weeks, according to Michigan’s Senate leader.

In a radio interview on WJR-AM in Detroit, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said he is confident that by late August he, Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Whitmer will be ready to jointly share “the general direction” of a roads proposal, “and then we’ll turn our teams loose to put the details in.”

He would not share details of the framework that’s being discussed in the radio interview on Detroit’s WJR-AM, but he disclosed differences between the two GOP leaders over the need to raise new revenue to fund a more than $2 billion hike in annual road repairs. Shirkey said he acknowledges the need for additional funds (i.e., taxes) while Chatfield wants to divert money from other parts of the state budget, Shirkey said.  

Shirkey also praised the Democratic governor’s openness to compromise, saying Whitmer “is evaluating ‒ honestly evaluating ‒ many of the alternatives that we placed on the table.”

A Whitmer spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on whether two weeks is feasible to hammer out a road-funding compromise, which hinges in large part on the amount and sources of new revenue. Whitmer herself said in an interview with reporters this week that the three leaders aren’t yet negotiating, but added that she thought more details could come within a matter of weeks.

“We have conversations, but there’s no negotiations. They’ve not shared a plan,” Whitmer told reporters this week about her talks with Chatfield and Shirkey.

The three met last Friday. Shirkey said in the radio interview that they planned to meet again this week.

“I’ve read pieces of things that are being debated amongst themselves, but at the end of the day, they’re going to need Democratic votes in the House, the Senate and my signature to have a budget done,” Whitmer said. “And that’s why we’ve got to get serious about negotiating.”

Details about what Shirkey and Chatfield intend to propose as a counter to Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase have been kept mostly under wraps throughout the summer. The leaders have not yet briefed rank-and-file Republican legislators.

“I’m sure eventually we will be briefed in caucus on what has been discussed, but as of right now, there’s no set time for that,” said Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann and chairman of the House transportation policy committee. “I believe that’s one reason why we’re coming back in late August.”

When lawmakers return to Lansing the week of Aug. 26, they’ll have about five weeks to approve a budget for the 2020 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, or risk shutting down state government. Funding for roads ‒ both the amount needed and the source of the money ‒ has been a roadblock to finishing the budget.

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Chatfield, R-Levering, previously said they aren’t working on a deadline to complete their road-funding proposal, which experts agree will need to cost the state more than $2 billion annually.

Shirkey said in the radio interview any compromise will not include Whitmer’s gas-tax proposal. He has said any new revenue for roads should come after the state prioritizes existing state spending on roads. He told WJR he believed state lawmakers could find “north of a billion” in the existing state budget to divert to roads, but that new revenue also will be needed ‒ a position that he said differs from Chatfield’s.

Chatfield “is pressing hard ‒ appropriately pressing hard ‒ to see if we can’t test ourselves to get there without [new revenue],” Shirkey told WJR. “The kinds of cuts necessary to do that are painful across the board.”

Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for Chatfield, confirmed to Bridge “the speaker wants to make sure existing funds are being used wisely by the government first before asking Michigan families to pay more, that’s been a priority of his and the House Republican caucus for a few years now. And it is simply the right thing to do.”

D’Assandro was scant on details surrounding negotiations and said there is “no firm timeline” on when a compromise would be publicly released.

Shirkey told WJR he envisions the rollout of a roads plan to be similar to how a deal with Whitmer to reform Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law was announced in May. Auto insurance talks were kept behind closed doors for weeks before Shirkey, Chatfield and Whitmer jointly unveiled their compromise to reporters.

“There’s obviously a plan that’s coming together, pieces of a plan that’s coming together, but right now it’s not together,” said Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who sits on the House transportation policy committee.

Experts have said Michigan needs to spend an estimated $2.5 billion more per year to get most of the state’s deteriorating roads into good or fair condition. That’s on top of $1.2 billion that was generated in 2015 through a gas tax increase, higher registration fees and diverted state income tax revenue, an amount experts have panned as insufficient to fix all of Michigan’s bad roads.

Whitmer, a first-term governor, staked her campaign on a pledge to “fix the damn roads.” She proposed $2.5 billion in new road funding in March, anchored by the gas tax hike that the GOP-controlled Legislature quickly rejected. Several statewide business groups and regional chambers of commerce have publicly advocated for new revenue, to the tune of $2.5 billion, and urged legislators to take action.

Republicans say Michigan taxpayers can’t afford to pay 45 cents more on gasoline. Chatfield has said his priority is to remove the sales tax paid on gasoline, since the revenue it generates pays for schools, rather than roads, and replace it with an equivalent amount of state gas tax, which does fund roads.

Shirkey and Chatfield also are considering a proposal from the West Michigan Policy Forum, a group of influential Grand Rapids-area business leaders, to issue bonds to shore up Michigan’s underfunded teacher pension system and stretch payments out over more years to lower the amount paid annually. That essentially would free up money for K-12 schools to offset the lost sales tax revenue from the gas pump.

Whitmer hasn’t endorsed the pension bond idea, citing the long-term effects of delaying pension payments on the state’s ability to pay out the obligated benefits to retirees.

Additionally, some Republican legislators, including O’Malley, want the final roads plan to incorporate ideas that came out of committee hearings this spring, including allowing counties and cities to levy their own local gas taxes.

Republicans in the House and Senate cut spending from multiple departments in their proposed 2020 budgets, in part to free up money for roads. Some Republicans also have questioned whether the $2.5 billion Whitmer’s administration is seeking should include the $1.2 billion approved four years ago, rather than come in addition to it.

Whitmer, meanwhile, wants lawmakers to cast one vote for a budget that would provide more funding for roads, schools and other services, and includes revenue from a gas-tax increase.

The Republican-majority Legislature and Whitmer have to hammer out a budget deal for 2020 by Sept. 30, or face a shutdown of government services. Whitmer told reporters this week that she’s open to asking legislators to pass a continuation budget extending temporarily into the new year if it appears that a deal isn’t likely to materialize by mid-September.

“Everyone has said they don’t want to get close to a shutdown,” she said. “If that’s the case and we have good-faith negotiations but we’re not able to get things done in time, I’m confident we’ll [look at a continuation].”

Shirkey told WJR the government will not shut down.

“I think she’s been an honest broker,” Shirkey said of Whitmer. “She’s passionate about what my governor wants to accomplish, but she’s also demonstrated to me, at least, that she’s pragmatic and she knows that we have to work together.

“It always involves a bit of give-and-take, and maybe even a little bit of contention, as you work up to a point at which everybody then says, ‘OK, this is a deal that we can get done.’”

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Fri, 08/16/2019 - 8:51am

The Republicans won't offer a proposal to fix the roads. That's their SOP. Their proposals always necessitate spending cuts to programs which are essential but already underfunded. If they offered them, they'd have to defend them. They always prefer to shoot down other people's suggestions than come up with fixes of their own.

J. Katakowski
Sat, 08/17/2019 - 5:50pm

The GOP is the do nothing party or the party of Trump all talk and absolutely no action an example is healthcare. Roads never got anything for 8 plus years.

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 1:05am

Dead on right. Health care has been a matter of discussion for, at least, a decade. While the Dems proposals have been a matter of public record during all of that time, I defy anyone to point out one single item of the Republican alternative. Hardly is right. They'd have to defend it. It's a part of their strategy.

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 12:36pm

And you liberals seem to be okay with taxing us all to death. Kick rocks.

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 12:28pm

'with underfunding roads us all to death'. Fixed that for you.

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 2:34am

It's Republicans who use the tricks of tax refunds to the wealthy, then dump all the taxes onto residential property, inside vehicle insurance, onto fuel where it's hidden, etc. After defunding cities of operating funds by the refund of the personal property tax for corporations (with no guarantees of new jobs) now the idea is to "allow" cities to levy their own tax to pay for roads destroyed by large work vehicles (owned by corporations.) The middle class has served as the providers for the function of common services while the wealthy walk away with the lion's share of profits. DTE is a perfect example by saying they want to have green energy yet lobby to stop net metering and the fair tax breaks for private solar installation, etc.

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 2:34am

It's Republicans who use the tricks of tax refunds to the wealthy, then dump all the taxes onto residential property, inside vehicle insurance, onto fuel where it's hidden, etc. After defunding cities of operating funds by the refund of the personal property tax for corporations (with no guarantees of new jobs) now the idea is to "allow" cities to levy their own tax to pay for roads destroyed by large work vehicles (owned by corporations.) The middle class has served as the providers for the function of common services while the wealthy walk away with the lion's share of profits. DTE is a perfect example by saying they want to have green energy yet lobby to stop net metering and the fair tax breaks for private solar installation, etc.

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 8:56am

Why do the people of Michigan have to pay for road that do not event last a year>>> I-696 rebuilt last year all ready needing repairs>>>> The Division first built in the 1950 rebuilt in 2000's lasted less then a year before pot holes formed!!!
Seems that for the last 28 or so years the companies like Carlo who built our road did a piss poor job! WHO got the kick backs>>>>

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 7:39pm

You are exactly right, but this is a result of not having the funds to repair roads correctly. When you make a repair at your house, you can repair the underlying base issue or you can make a cosmetic repair many times. The cosmetic repair will be cheaper and that is what the MI Dept of Transportation has been doing. If you look at I-96 in Western Wayne county, it was rebuilt from the base up 5 years ago and is still in great shape. But the cost was $150 million for about 8 miles of roadway. This is the kind of investment that is required and we can’t keep putting cosmetic fixes in place of rebuilding.

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 9:20am

The roads are terrible, experts say we need 2.5 billion in funding to fix them, and members of the GOP think we can get there by not raising revenue? Yes, lets take from our schools, which are also awful.

This is what happens when you underfund state institutions for years on end. Jobs go away, people leave, infrastructure crumbles, and student achievement falls through the floor. More cuts will make an already bad situation worse.

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 9:24am

The governor did not propose $2.5 billion in more funding for roads. She proposed ending the phased in earmark of $600 million in income tax revenue for roads and increasing the gas tax by $2.5 billion. The net increase in road funding would be the $2.5 billion in additional gas tax revenue less the removed earmark of $600 million, that is $1.9 billion.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 08/16/2019 - 3:29pm

This is a troubling detail that people like The Bridge and certain MSM outlets either downplay or just "omit" altogether.

Gov. Whitmer's gas tax (the one that the flat-out lied to voters about last year) only perpetuates the shell game that politicians love to play with tax revenues.

Let's see if Sen. Shirkey is willing to drink the kool aid...

abe bubush
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:18am

Kevin Grand, you consistently lie on this forum. Your party has failed Michigan. You need to stop lying about the failures the GOP party has wrought on Michigan.

David Waymire
Fri, 08/16/2019 - 9:39am

Finding more money from existing revenues will mean letting other important areas of state support fall further behind. The House budget passed so far, for instance, calls for a 0.4 percent increase for higher ed -- in other words, telling students to take our more loans. That budget also calls for a 0 percent increase in revenue sharing -- in other words, telling cities they need to lay off more police and fire fighters and stop trying to make their communities attractive to young talent. Both steps are short sighted if the goal of state policy is to provide collective goods that enhance opportunity for all to raise their incomes.

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 11:28am

Cut the politicians pay by 11% and that would cover half the repairs needed for Michigan roads. Then cut people off welfare thats been on it longer then 3 years and that would cover the rest of Michigan's roads! I'm tired of the government taking from the senior citizens and lower middle class families. They're carrying the heaviest part of taxes on their backs.

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 1:58pm

Rep. Shirkey is appropriately named, as the Republicans are clearly shirking their duty to work for the best interests of Michigan and the residents and non-residents who drive on our bedraggled roads. The lack of a plan predates 2018 election, and it seems that there is still an aversion to raising the revenue needed (i.e. new taxes) to get the job done., something that Republicans are loath to do, no matter what our state's actual needs are. The governor has put a plan on the table, one that strikes me as extremely regressive, but it's still a plan that would get the job done. The Republicans should have responded in weeks, but it has now been months, and still nothing.

Brad Cole
Fri, 08/16/2019 - 4:28pm

The legislature and governor are all disappointing. Both parties.

David Bates
Fri, 08/16/2019 - 7:24pm

Can someone in the know please explain to me why the roads in the Upper Peninsula are so much better than those in the Lower? We just returned from an RV trip to the UP and the roads were for the most part smooth and well maintained. By contrast, Interstate 69 east of Lansing was so rough that two windows in our motor home literally shook themselves open - and I was driving at 55 MPH.
In my opinion, any road repair program needs to address the reason for the obscenely poor quality of the highway system in the Lower Peninsula, and please do not tell me it is because of the ice and snow during the winter because winters in the UP (and in Canada where the roads are also vastly superior to ours) are at least as severe and usually more so than in the south. Also, please do not deceive us into believing that the 45 cent per gallon tax, if enacted, will actually be used to fix the roads because there is already talk of it being used for "education" and the general fund.
If I were a member of the state legislature, I would hide my head in shame over the condition of roads like I-69. We are better than this.

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:10am

This article explains the reason:
We need to change the way road construction/repairs are funded. We have to take into account more populated areas where there are wider roads with more lanes, instead of funding by mile of road, without regard to number of lanes. Downstate Democrats and Republicans in populated areas agree to a formula that sets aside funding based on the local areas where drivers register their cars. Too bad Michigan is so unfairly gerrymandered that the majority never gets fair representation. People in the boondocks impose their will on the majority. It's incredibly unfair, I daresay, evil.

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:15am

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Chatfield, R-Levering
How can these small town folks be the leaders in a state of over 8 million people????? They don't see a problem because they don't drive on the same roads as the majority of TAX PAYERS, yet they get the same share of money per mile. They think people downstate are spoiled and wasteful. Sooooooooooooooooo ridiculous. Fix gerrymandering and VOTE them OUT.

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:27am

Shirkey, R, Senate Majority Leader -Clarklake, Population-2,717
Chatfield, R, House Majority Leader-Levering, Population-1,324

Population of Metro Detroit-The Combined Statistical Area has a population of 5.2 million.
Estimated Population of Michigan-10,020,472
It's insanity.

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:31am


Wed, 08/21/2019 - 5:49pm

No, narrower roads, but equal funding. Try to stay with us.

Barry Visel
Fri, 08/16/2019 - 8:25pm

The need for new revenue doesn’t have to mean new taxes. Rather, simply eliminate some of our nearly $40 Billion of tax expenditures (tax credits, deductions and incentives). In other words, collect the taxes that are on the books instead of giving them away. When was the last time our “leaders” even reviewed the tax expenditure budget?

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:29am

Problem is that companies have done what they were required to do (made investments etc.) to receive the credits so taking them away puts the state in court in a loosing position. So not that easy.

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:53pm

Yeah, I'm a billionaire owner of a football team and I pay my players tens of millions of dollars, so give me tax payer money so I can build a new stadium. That way I can charge more for parking, souvenirs, food, and beer. The old stadium you tax payers bought isn't pretty anymore. Oh yeah, and I also want a stadium for baseball, another one for basketball, another one for hockey, another one for soccer, etc. Please give me tax credits, I swear it will bring more low-paying jobs. Oh and let me put my corporate name on the stadiums you bought for me. Just don't make me broadcast the games on tv. That would hurt my profits. The taxpaying masses should have to buy tickets to watch.

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 12:35pm

Funny when this publication claims that it is unbiased. What are the dems offering besides taxing me into oblivion?

Let me guess
Wed, 08/21/2019 - 6:00pm

You are in the GOP Trump cult, a recovering Tea Bagger, who now LOVES debt and deficit spending, to hell with our children and generations to come! Hilarious hypocrisy, you don't like tax and spend Democrats. You prefer the debt and spend GOP that always leaves us worse off when they leave office. Brace yourself for the coming TRUMP DEPRESSION. The stable genius surrounds himself with the best and brightest minds, then ignores them only to rant with undisciplined diarrhea mouth stream of consciousness, like a two-year old. "I like trucks", "I've always liked trucks." "You have to vote for me, whether you like me or not." He's holding world trade, business, and the economy hostage with his tantrums and you are an enabler.

Be Honest
Sun, 08/18/2019 - 1:08pm

Soon rich people will buy flying cars, no need to fix the roads. Poor people can just walk on the crumbling roads. Dems just want socialism!!!! LOL

Cardi B
Mon, 08/19/2019 - 11:19am

Mr. Calley,
Please take your head out of the sand. You have done nothing to improve our healthcare in Michigan other than when it served your personal situation. Please explain why Bernie Sanders is wrong. He took children to Canada for diabetes medication because it's too expensive here.

Is it because you don't have children with diabetes in your family or is it because helping these children would hurt your bottom line as a "business owner"? You had great socialist healthcare all the years you were working in the government selling us out to lobbyists and you have an awesome socialist pension to boot. You can't serve two masters and talk out of both sides of your mouth. If you do, you will continue to become irrelevant to the voters. These are matters are serious for families that are hurting and scared. Get some empathy.

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 3:03pm

He is already irrelevant. He can say whatever he wants now that he has a government pension for life. You are right, never heard him complaining when his top of the line health insurance plan was being paid by taxpayers. How about making legislators contribute a reasonable amount toward their health insurance and retirement. Maybe they would "sing a different tune".