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From our State Capitol in Lansing to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, WKAR is committed to explaining how the actions of lawmakers are affecting Michiganders. Political and government reporter Abigail Censky leads this section. There are also stories from Capitol correspondents Cheyna Roth, Rick Pluta and the Associated Press. As the 2020 presidential race begins, look here for reports on the role Michigan will play in electing or re-electing the president.

Clock Ticking On State Budget And Roads Plan

Amanda Pinckney
State capitol in downtown Lansing.

Michigan lawmakers have been spending the warm months behind the scenes trying to hammer out a state budget and roads plan. But they plan to start meeting publicly again soon.

There’s one huge thing standing in the way of a final budget, along with a lot of little things, and that’s the state’s crumbling roads.

How will Michigan fund what experts say is a multi-billion dollar problem?

Now, Michigan having poor infrastructure and pothole ridden roads is not a new issue. But it came front and center this budget cycle because of our new governor. Remember these ads?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is determined to make good on that promise. She presented her version of what she thinks the state’s spending plan should be way back in March. It called for a lot of changes, one of the most divisive would gradually raise the fuel and gas tax until it’s up by 45-cents per gallon.

Not only does Whitmer want a budget that puts more money towards clean drinking water and education and other state departments – she also wants a comprehensive plan to fund and fix the state’s roads. At the same time.

That 45-cent fuel and gas tax increase over several months might be a stretch for lawmakers– and the governor has said she is open to other ideas, as long as they get us to that more than 2 billion benchmark.

Gov. Whitmer To Propose 45 Cent Gas Tax Increase; $507 Million Education Increase In Budget

Lee Chatfield
Credit gophouse.org
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield

She’s working with Republican leadership in the House and Senate who were not thrilled with the ask. Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield was immediately not on board when the proposal was introduced.

"Unfortunately the proposal that she put forward is a nonstarter for my caucus," Chatfield said in March. "Because the people in our district cannot afford it. So the gas tax will not be raised 45 cents."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was equally unimpressed.

"The citizens of Michigan cannot absorb, especially the folks that actually work for a living, cannot absorb a 45-cent increase in gas tax. It just can’t do it," Shirkey said in March.

Then both chambers went through the regular motions of getting a budget. They held committee hearings, they worked things out behind the scenes, and by the end of June both chambers had passed their versions of what they wanted the budget to be. But neither had a very clear roads plan in them.

State Sen. Mike Shirkey (R) Clarklake
Credit senatormikeshirkey.com
State Sen. Mike Shirkey (R) Clarklake

But then everyone went home. The governor was not happy.

"The real work of getting the budget done is the most important work that we have to do and they’re not even in town as a body in either chamber right now. And everyone should be mad," said Whitmer.

That’s where things were left at the end of June. And that’s where they’ve stayed at least out in the open.

Behind the scenes, lawmakers say they’re working on coming to some form of consensus that will bring together the House, Senate and the governor.

Which is easier said than done. Now lawmakers are starting to show their faces in Lansing again.

The Senate met once this week. Republican Senator Wayne Schmidt is chair of the Senate Appropriations Transportation subcommittee.

"Plenty of ideas out there, the leader, the speaker, and the governor just keep chatting and that’s a good thing. As long as they’re still talking, I’m happy," said Schmidt.

There have been some proposals for the roads floated among law makers and special interest groups. Those include a complicated bonding proposal, and moving up the timeline on an old roads plan.

The lingering concern here is a government shutdown. The legislature has to have the budget done by the stroke of midnight on September 30. Otherwise Michigan government turns into its own version of a pumpkin.

Governor Whitmer was scheduled to have a media roundtable to “discuss the importance of passing a budget on time”  That roundtable was cancelled. The plot thickens.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County.
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