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Michigan lawmakers OK $400M for roads and bridges

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Legislature gave approval Tuesday to $44.7 billion in state spending, including $400 million for roads and bridges.

But the plan does not include the central feature of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s initial proposal — a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike. She argued such an increase would have ultimately generated $2.1 billion more for roads and bridges by the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Whitmer deemed the Republican plans “a mess.” Even so, it appears unlikely there will be a partial government shutdown, although Whitmer could still partly or fully veto certain spending proposals.

In a written statement, she accused Republicans of “playing more shell games with the state budget so they can buy a phony talking point that they’re spending ‘record money’ on roads.”

Michigan Republicans were quick to defend their plans to spend $400 million from the state’s general fund on deteriorating roads and bridges.

“If signed into law, Michigan would spend more in the coming fiscal year on roads than at any other time in our state’s history,” said Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a Traverse City Republican who pointed to a net $373 million, or 7.4%, boost. “And we’d be doing it without a 45-cent gas tax increase.”

The transportation budget and 14 other bills, calling for $44.7 billion in spending, cleared both the House and Senate — some unanimously and others along party lines.  The proposals come after Whitmer and legislators tabled long-term road-funding talks this month to concentrate on the budget, then also hit an impasse on short-term road spending.

“There’s very little interest in shutting down the state,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat. “But at the same time, she’s got to show a strong response. … There’s obviously the line-item veto pen, and I think she’ll be able to use that significantly. I think there’s some other tactics that she could use as well.”

Democrats oppose Republicans’ proposal to use $400 million from the state’s general fund for roads — a routine practice in recent years, but one they said is a Band-Aid approach that effectively hurts general spending, including on higher education and prisons.

Michigan ranks second to last nationally in per-capita road spending. Whitmer has warned that without a big investment, the state’s percentage of roads in poor condition will double, from 22% to 44%, in the next five years.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, said he “can’t wait” to resume long-term road-funding talks once he hears from the governor.
“I think these are very good budgets,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect because we haven’t been talking for a few days.”

There was also some bipartisanship on Tuesday.

The Legislature voted unanimously for a budget bill that includes a $120 million boost to protect drinking water. The money would be used to help put in place tougher lead-in-water rules, curtail contamination from chemicals known collectively as PFAS, and issue grants to water suppliers seeking low-interest loans for infrastructure projects.

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