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Aug
2015
24

MI Legislature Adjourns Without Road Funding Deal; GOP House Holding Construction Wages Hostage

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The Michigan legislature has adjourned through Labor Day without reaching consensus on how to fund a road reconstruction deal. A day of closed-door talks last week did not solve the problem. 

While both the House and Senate have passed separate funding plans, they have yet to hammer out their differences.  The Senate’s $1.5 billion funding plan relies heavily on a gas tax increase, while the House’s $1.16 billion plan uses existing revenue. This would mean major cuts to statewide programs.  

House leaders thought they had a workable compromise in which $1.2 billion would fund roads with $600 million coming from the gas tax boost and $600 million coming from the general fund.  But Democrats and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder were not amenable to the possibility of big cuts to state programs if projected general fund revenue growth did not materialize.

Republicans hoped for support from Detroit Democrats, but many leaders there are turned off by GOP attempts to repeal the prevailing wage.  Rep. Brian Banks, chair of the Detroit caucus, told M Live:

“If we have individuals out collecting signatures to end prevailing wage, you’re not going to get Democratic support. There has to be a compromise.”

Banks floated the idea of ending the prevailing wage repeal petition drive in exchange for labor groups backing off the idea of a corporate income tax increase to pay for roads.  

After announcing that the legislature would adjourn, Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter provided the following analogy of the day’s debate:

“We want to build a fuller solution, somewhere north of a billion dollars, but we’re not there yet.  I would make the analogy of a Christmas tree that collapsed under too much weight. Our negotiations have been a bit derailed as other things that are not related to roads were attempted to be added to it. It was clear that we weren’t going to accomplish anything today or tomorrow.”

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel downplayed the characterization:

“If we’re going to divert general fund money to fix the roads, let’s be grown ups and make difficult decisions now about where those cuts are going to come from rather than kicking the can down the road for some future time.”

Michiganders are now left holding the (crumbling infrastructure) bag.  Curbed Detroit tried to lighten the mood with four alternative approaches to road funding, including an online crowd-funding effort. Perhaps not surprising given the seemingly endless deliberations, this method has already been used on the local level, Curbed writes:

Hamtramck residents gave up on government and did it themselves. In July and August, after a GoFundMe campaign raised over $4400 for repairs, a crew of 35, members and supporters of Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Repair, took to the street with tampers and bags of cold patch to fix their own streets. While this was effective—something we can attest to, given that Curbed ‘s unofficial Detroit HQ is in Hamtramck—there’s something problematic about citizens having such a profound (if honestly come by) lack of faith in government’s ability to fix anything.

While the Hamtramck solution got things done in a way that was effective (buh-bye potholes) and nicely shame-y (thanks for nothing, Michigan legislators and Governor Snyder), it’s probably not a viable plan for the city of Detroit overall, or for the state’s many terrible roads. Which solution—or combination of solutions—will out? No word yet, despite progress at the State House, so there’s plenty of time for our readers to weigh in, and to add suggestions of their own.
Construction season has more or less come and gone, but action must be taken to have plans in place when Michigan begins to thaw come spring. Further inaction could push this debate into crowded election year territory next year.

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