Michigan lawmakers pare down infrastructure spending in budget bill


The Republican-led Michigan legislature approved $59.9 billion in state spending in budget bills, axing a controversial 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike proposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Whitmer, a Democrat who won election last year, said the tax would have generated $2.1 billion for roads and bridges. Instead lawmakers proposed spending $400 million in general funds to fix roads. The transportation budget bill was approved on party line votes Tuesday.

“It won’t do a damn thing to actually solve the problem,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said of the budget passed by the legislature’s GOP majorities.

Bloomberg News

Whitmer labeled the budget “a mess” and said it would cut funding from state departments to pay for roads. Whitmer has the option to sign the budgets as written, sign the budgets but issue line-item vetoes over specific expenditures, or veto the bills outright. If the administration is to avoid a government shutdown, the bills would have to be signed by Oct. 1, when the next fiscal year begins.

Republican lawmakers and the Whitmer administration this month hit an impasse over the road funding plans.

“[It] is exactly how we got in this mess in the first place, and it won’t do a damn thing to actually solve the problem,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Republicans are playing more shell games with the state budget so they can buy a phony talking point that they’re spending ‘record money’ on roads. The truth is, their transportation budget would only rebuild about 39 miles on the freeway and fix about four bridges in a state with over 1,000 bridges in poor condition.”

Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., D-East Lansing, voted against the proposal and said the budget offered no real plan to fix the state’s roads.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results — Band-Aids and one-time funding measures haven’t worked in the past, and they won’t fix our roads now,” Hertel said in a statement. “The only record being broken with this budget is yet another year of the legislature promising a solution to our crumbling roads and failing to do so again.”

Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council, a not-for-profit public affairs research organization, said that the transportation budget ticked the wrong boxes.

“We established several principles to guide the debate before debate on road funding began this year,” Lupher said. “Two of those were that the solution should aim to address the whole problem and it should not do so by creating funding problems for other government services. The transportation budget sent to the governor violates both of those principles.”

Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, who is chair of the House oversight committee, and other Republican lawmakers have urged Whitmer to sign the bills.

“This budget invests in our kids and our roads – and it respects hardworking taxpayers who are paying the bills because we’re not asking them for more money,” Hall said. “It’s a great example of how to make our state a better place without raising taxes.”

House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, said in a statement that the budget bills include many of Whitmer priorities and she should sign it into law.

“Thanks to the Legislature’s responsible decision-making, we are presenting Gov. Whitmer with a budget ahead of the constitutional deadline despite her unwillingness to participate in negotiations,” Hernandez said.

The transportation bill calls for $400 million in one-time spending on top of the 2015 road funding plan to put towards roads and bridges.

Lawmakers passed a $15.2 billion K-12 spending bill last week. The school aid budget increases school funding by nearly $400 million. Schools would be in line to receive a $240 per-pupil foundation allowance increase.

Whitmer’s budget proposed $507 million for K-12 schools under a new weighted distribution formula that would provide extra funding for students with more costly educational needs, including at-risk, career tech and economically disadvantaged kids.

Michigan has $6.4 billion of outstanding debt, including $1.5 billion of general obligation bonds, $3.4 billion of general fund-secured appropriation debt, $677.2 million transportation tax-supported debt, and $728.6 million in unemployment insurance bonds that repaid federal unemployment fund loans and are backed by a tax on employers.

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