Whitmer agrees to delay road funding talks to finish Michigan budget

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican leaders have agreed to move forward on Michigan's budget without a deal to fund improvements to roads, as the Democratic governor had sought.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has agreed to put aside negotiations on how to raise $2.5 billion annually in revenue for the state’s roads and infrastructure. 

This is the first time Whitmer, a Democrat, has publicly changed her position on the centerpiece of her budget — she has previously said she would veto any budget plan that doesn’t include some way to raise the massive amount of funding necessary to fix the state’s battered roads and bridges.

In a joint statement with Republican leaders Sen. Mike Shirkey and Rep. Lee Chatfield Monday, Whitmer said: “The people of Michigan deserve leadership in Lansing that will work to continue providing them with services they depend on every day. In conversations over the weekend, we’ve agreed that the best course of action is to immediately begin target-setting with legislative and executive leadership to get a budget passed by October 1st.”

Whitmer had previously planned a press conference for Monday morning but canceled it Sunday evening, citing a scheduling change. 

“Budget work will ramp up this week and the leaders will meet tomorrow for their regular quadrant meeting,” Senate GOP spokesperson Amber McCann told Bridge, referring to the regular meetings Whitmer holds with the two Republican leaders, along with minority Democratic leaders Sen. Jim Ananich and Rep. Christine Greig. 

The announcement comes just days after Shirkey and Chatfield said they had agreed on a budget without a negotiated deal on road funding and scheduled the first budget hearings for Thursday. That indicated they planned to test whether Whitmer would follow through on her veto promise. Whitmer said Friday that the move was “leading the state toward a Trump-style government shutdown.” 

If Shirkey, Chatfield and Whitmer don’t agree to a budget plan before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the state government will shut down for the first time in a decade. 

“We have all agreed to continue conversations about road funding in a meaningful way and table all associated issues for the time being. Right now, our number one priority is getting a budget passed,” the joint statement read. 

It’s not clear whether the announcement means Whitmer’s signature policy proposal of a 45-cent annual gas tax increase is dead. Republicans, who have been loathe to raise taxes or fees to address the state’s roads, have said the plan — which would make Michigan’s fuel tax the highest in the nation — is a non-starter. 

Negotiations over a roads plan have been ongoing between the three leaders for weeks. Whitmer said the two Republican leaders have failed to offer any “viable” solution that raises “anywhere in the range” of the $2.5 billion experts have estimated are needed annually to maintain the state’s roads and bridges. Whitmer has said the proposed gas tax is important not only to raise necessary funds but also to guarantee it goes to roads, stopping what she’s called “shell games” in which money is shifted from schools to the transportation budget. 

Republicans rebut that they have offered four solutions during private discussions with the governor and that Whitmer has rejected them all. 

Neither Whitmer, Shirkey nor Chatfield have said what the GOP proposals have been, citing a confidentiality agreement. Shirkey has suggested the governor take a second look at a proposal that would require the state to issue a bond to fund the teacher pension system. They argue that would free up millions annually to replace sales tax revenue (dedicated to schools and local government) that would be lost under a House proposal to remove the state’s sales tax on gasoline. 

Democrats have curtly dismissed that proposal. Whitmer called the bond strategy “fiscally bad ideas” and argued that “taking money out of education to fill potholes is not a real solution.” Last week a group of six House Democrats also released a statement opposing that idea. Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township, said it was a “fiscally reckless gamble” that’s “fraught with financial peril.”

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other disagreements for Whitmer, Shirkey and Chatfield to tackle in the budget before Oct. 1. Whitmer’s budget proposal, announced in March, has significant differences from both of the budgets passed by the House and Senate. Notably, the Republican-led chambers proposed cuts to major state agencies, including the offices of Attorney General and Secretary of State, which are now in the control of elected Democrats. They are also at odds over how and how much to fund K-12 schools.

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Comments

Matt
Mon, 09/09/2019 - 9:51am

What, somehow she didn't think, "I'm shutting down the state government because the Republicans won't raise your gas tax .45/gal", wasn't a good political statement/strategy?

Bones
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:22pm

The roads need $2.5 billion. Where's it going to come from, Matt? Your corporate handmaidens in the legislature don't have a solution, so what's yours?

Matt
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 7:12pm

So why are you so quick to gab your ankles for the road building lobby? Never mind. But why are you so willing to accept their numbers and schedule given the many millions they will make off the tax payers. Doesn't this make you the corporate shill?

Eric
Mon, 09/09/2019 - 10:49am

Pathetic, another can kicked down our crumbling roads.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 09/09/2019 - 10:56am

See!

She folded just like a wet newspsper.

Bones
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:19pm

How do you grousers not collapse under the weight of your own contradictions and hypocrisy? If she held out for road funding, you'd castigate her for playing politics. But she's agreed to compromise for the moment, so you'll castigate her for that instead and then complain about a lack of civility.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 6:16pm

She didn't "need" to hold out for anything.

Nor did she need to "compromise".

All she needed to do was to just pass a realistic state budget, keep her word that she gave during last years gubernatorial debate and move on to more important issues.

When she, along with certain media outlets who just report everything that Gov. Whitmer releases as the undisputed truth, start spouting pablum like the alleged "fact" that the $2.5-billion will be going towards the roads, of course it was going to eventually blow up in her face.

Her stratagem was nothing more than an elaborate shell game. Even The Bridge acknowledged this fact (albeit, I suspect VERY reluctantly).

"Getting a win on the gas tax sets in motion a cascade of money by freeing up $600 million in income tax dollars that would otherwise be used for roads. Those income tax dollars would now go to public universities, replacing funds that have been diverted for more than a decade from the School Aid Fund. Using the Rube Goldberg analogy, that leaves more money for K-12 schools."

https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-government/analysis-gretchen-whitmers-...

When you blatantly lie to Michigan Taxpayers, a detail that even The Bridge hasn't acknowledged in its reporting about this issues to its readers, Gov. Whitmer just needs act like an adult and take her lumps (politically-speaking, of course).

https://youtu.be/Jvjp6LN63ZQ?t=49

WRTolkas
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 7:03am

She knows she will lose badly. And justified.

Jim V
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 10:07am

The GOP has shown, for the 8 years that they completely controlled the state government, that they have neither the desire or intelligence to tackle the crumbling road issues in Michigan. They don't care about public education or the environment and do not possess the intestinal fortitude to make difficult decisions that benefit the general public.

Todd
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 2:13pm

Good gawd. Shaddup.

Diane J
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 11:15am

It doesn't matter if she gives concessions or not-the GOP will still try to block anything she does. They do it in DC and every other state they've lost complete control.

Jacob
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:46pm

Why did I bother to vote for a Dem to lead the state if that person was going to fold in the face of the first budget fight? Even if you have to compromise to reach a deal (I would have been willing to pay the gas tax, but I know how unpopular it was), the new state budget should include a plan for road funding. This is the state equivalent of the US Congress raising the debt ceiling.

Once again, instead of fighting for what they believe in, instead of trying to convince voters, making the GOP explain to voters why they refuse to help their constituents, Dems are letting the GOP set the terms and screw the residents of the state. What a waste.

Matt
Wed, 09/11/2019 - 8:11am

If you're so sure of this, get this question on the ballot! Are you Democrats afraid of democracy?

Jacob
Wed, 09/11/2019 - 2:53pm

The irony of this statement given the GOP is suing to stop the redistricting measure voters passed in November is staggering.

Matt
Wed, 09/11/2019 - 5:34pm

You are avoiding the point here and switching the subject. Why won't you start the ballot initiative?