The partisan rancor swirling around fixing Michigan’s roads took an unexpected turn with members of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s own party publicly rejecting her proposed 45-cent gas tax increase.
Such an increase was projected to raise $2.5 billion, of which $1.8 billion would be spent on roads. The proposed increase, however, would mean Michigan had the highest gasoline taxes in all 50 states.
Negotiations to find a permanent fix for financing the repair of Michigan’s notoriously crumbling roads have been occurring in private. That hasn’t stopped Whitmer, a Democrat who made “fixing the damn roads” a cornerstone of her 2018 campaign, from repeatedly criticizing Republican legislators, claiming they have failed to offer their own plan.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarkston, indicated Republicans might submit a budget without any funding for road repairs. Whitmer has said she’ll veto any budget proposal that fails to address the roads. Failure to approve a budget by Oct. 1 would result in a government shutdown.
The impasse prompted Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, to issue a statement in which she declared Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, negligent.
“Speaker Chatfield and Leader Shirkey have the authority to set the Legislature’s agenda, and it is irresponsible that they shirked that duty all summer when it came to the budget,” she said.
“We have the worst roads in the country, and to suggest that we move a budget that does not deal with our roads – because they let the clock run out on their watch – is absurd,” Greig continued. “We stood together at the start of the summer and all parties involved vowed to strive for bipartisanship and transparency during this process, yet when we brought solutions to the table we were met with silence, and no alternatives from them.”
For their part, both Chatfield and Shirkey indicated they have offered up several options to fund road repairs. One such idea would have been issuing a 30-year bond to pay back $900 million borrowed from the Michigan education pension system, an idea rejected by Whitmer and Democrats.
Democrats are now contemplating other revenue streams, including a lower increase in the current gas tax than what Whitmer proposed; an increased 1-cent per mile tax on heavy trucks they claim will raise $400 million; and closing corporate tax loopholes.
Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, told The Center Square he’s relieved the 45-cent gasoline tax hike proposal has been removed from the negotiating table.
“It’s obvious this plan has been dead for weeks if not months,” he said.
“Had the state’s Democrats persisted, it would have resulted in the highest gas prices in the country, which would have been painful in everyone’s daily lives, especially those who struggle to pay their monthly bills,” Drolet added.
Drolet called it a win for Michigan and its taxpayers.
“Massive tax increases like the one Gov. Whitmer proposed are the kind of tactic that gives politicians a bad reputation,” he said.