Whitmer Threatens Veto Of Senate GOP Transportation Budget
Senate Republican members of the Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee stripped out Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposed 45-cents per gallon gasoline tax proposal on Tuesday, opting instead to accelerate the final portion of funding from the 2015 roads plan, which promptly received a veto threat from the governor.
In reporting the S-1 substitute of SB 149 along party lines 5-2 with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed it is sticking with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's plan to develop a long-term road funding plan by early summer to consider separately from the Transportation budget.
"Michigan has the worst roads in the country. Our deteriorating roads are hurting business, tourism and motorists, and the public is demanding action. That's why the governor put forward a real plan that will actually fix the damn roads, improve education and skills training, and clean up our drinking water," Tiffany Brown, spokesperson for Ms. Whitmer, said in a statement. "The governor stands ready to work with the Legislature, but the Senate budget passed today won't do anything to actually fix the roads, and could actually make things worse. If this plan reaches her desk, the governor will veto it."
The Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee's budget contained $5.13 billion for the Department of Transportation.
Rather than take Ms. Whitmer's gas tax proposal, it was jettisoned in favor of providing the final $132 million General Fund dedicated to the 2015 road plan a year early to reach the full $1.2 billion additional funding for roads that was to be fully implemented by 2021.
Subcommittee chair Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) told reporters finding a long-term funding solution to fix the state's crumbling road infrastructure is "a separate conversation" among leadership and the governor at this time.
"My job today was to pass a balanced budget," Mr. Schmidt said, adding that the subcommittee had accomplished that with SB 149.
He said the budget as reported would provide the department and local communities with certainty on what to expect for roads and other infrastructure with the money that is available.
Mr. Schmidt added there are still questions as to how much more is needed to improve the state's roads and of how much of an increase in miles or repairs per construction season could be handled by industry.
Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), minced no words with reporters as to her displeasure with the changes made to the budget.
"I think they're being chicken," Ms. Bayer said. "They're taking the cowardly way out."
While not committing to a full 45-cents gas tax hike, she said she would be on board with a gas tax increase large enough to actually fix the state's roads.
As SB 149 was reported by the subcommittee, total MDOT funding is $647.5 million gross below the governor's recommendation and $132 million General Fund above the governor's recommendation.
The key change the Senate made in SB 149 was eliminating Ms. Whitmer's proposed Fixing Michigan Roads Program, the gas tax increase. The Senate Fiscal Agency had estimated $834.9 million in new revenue for Fiscal Year 2019-20 going to roads under the plan, with most going toward trunklines.
A $143 million earmark from the U.S. Supreme Court's South Dakota v. Wayfairdecision is also added back into the budget to the Michigan Transportation Fund as outlined under current law. Of these funds $55.9 million would go to state trunklines, $55.9 million to counties and $31.7 million to cities and villages.
Road and bridge revenue adjustments recommended by the governor of more than $205.9 million were concurred with by the subcommittee.
The changes in the Transportation budget vary sharply from the governor's proposed budget.
The governor last month called for phasing in a 45-cents per gallon gasoline tax by October 1, 2020 to raise $2.137 billion more for roads. Under the plan the $325 million General Fund now going to roads would be returned to the General Fund and subtracted from the $2.5 billion the governor is looking to raise for new road revenue.
Through the governor's proposal she has called for taking the new $2.137 billion and creating a new Fixing Michigan Roads fund to split the money between interstates, freeways, highly traveled roads, lesser traveled arterial roads, local bridges, local rural economic corridors and other locations. The primary focus would be the most heavily traveled roads. Existing road funding outside of the proposed new funding would continue to go through the PA 51 road funding formula for the state.
Groups who have voiced some support for the governor's proposal lamented the Senate subcommittee's vote in statements.
"While we are open to other solutions to resolving Michigan's road condition crisis, we are not sure how the Senate budget advances that critical goal," said Brad Williams with Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has come out in strong support of Ms. Whitmer's road funding goals.
Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum was also unimpressed.
"We urge the Legislature to work with the administration to develop a plan to fix Michigan's infrastructure and roads, and reject gimmicks, short-term fixes and shell games that will only punt the problem down the road, and cause further harm to Michigan's agricultural industry," Mr. Byrum said.