Whitmer & Legislative Leaders Reach Consensus: Budget First, Roads Later

Sep 9, 2019

UPDATED at 4:00 p.m.: Negotiations to come up with a long-term plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads have been put on hold. Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican Legislative leadership announced Monday that their main priority is the budget. 


Whitmer, Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey released a joint statement on Monday morning following a weekend of discussions.

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. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and negotiating on behalf of the people of Michigan.

“Road talks will continue, but at this point no agreements have been made with regards to a road plan,” said Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann. McCann added that the House and Senate have a tentative budget agreement, but with Whitmer’s administration coming to the table, there may be some changes.

The budget is due by midnight on September 30. Whitmer previously said she would not sign a budget without a comprehensive plan to put billions of dollars into fixing the state’s roads. The proposal she put in front of the state Legislature included a 45-cent gas and fuel tax increase, which Republican lawmakers called a non-starter. But Whitmer continually said that Republicans did not put forward a better idea, though Shirkey previously said they presented Whitmer with four proposals.

Now Whitmer says in order to avoid a shutdown, she’s willing to work on roads later.

“It’s not fun to be the adult in the room sometimes, but the fact of the matter is we’ve got important work to do in keeping the state of Michigan open and running,” Whitmer told reporters Monday afternoon following a Grand Rapids event.

Whitmer also told reporters that some lawmakers actually want a shutdown, but she’s not going to let it happen.

“A shutdown would be catastrophic for a lot of people that are counting on us to get this done and I’m not willing to play games with people’s lives,” she said.

But Speaker Lee Chatfield said the only people who have publicly talked about a shutdown is the governor’s administration.

“We’ve been committed since day one to passing a responsible budget, putting it on her desk, while also having a conversation about roads,” he said in an interview. “So, I’m glad we finally pivoted to focusing on the budget.”

UPDATED at 10:00 a.m.: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders announced Monday that they will work to enact a state budget without including a long-term funding plan to fix Michigan's deteriorating roads.

The agreement should forestall the possibility of an Oct. 1 partial government shutdown. But it also strips the first-year governor of leverage as she seeks a nearly $2 billion influx of new spending on road and bridge construction in a state that ranks second to last nationally in per-capita road spending.

Whitmer and GOP leaders had been unable to agree on an alternative after her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike was declared dead.

"The people of Michigan deserve leadership in Lansing that will work to continue providing them with services they depend on every day," said a joint statement issued by Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

They agreed over the weekend to immediately begin working to set spending targets for the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

"We have all agreed to continue conversations about road funding in a meaningful way and table all associated issues for the time being," the statement said. "Right now, our number one priority is getting a budget passed. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and negotiating on behalf of the people of Michigan."

The announcement came days after Republicans internally agreed to their own spending levels, without input from Whitmer — setting the stage for a showdown. Whitmer, who campaigned on a pledge to fix the roads, on Friday accused GOP leaders of leading the state toward a "Trump-style shutdown," while Chatfield's spokesman said she was holding the budget "hostage" over her "extreme gas tax agenda."