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Governor, Republican lawmakers agree to negotiate budget without roads fix

striped safety cones on a road
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Road construction along I94 in Jackson County, Michigan (file photo)

Following a months-long impasse, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders have agreed to work out a budget framework without a long-term fix for the state’s roads.

“The people of Michigan deserve leadership in Lansing that will work to continue providing them with services they depend on every day,” a joint statement released Monday morning reads.

“In conversations over the weekend, we’ve agreed that the best course of action is to immediately begin target-setting with legislative and executive leadership to get a budget passed by October 1st. We have all agreed to continue conversations about road funding in a meaningful way and table all associated issues for the time being. Right now, our number one priority is getting a budget passed. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and negotiating on behalf of the people of Michigan."

Whitmer had proposed a 45-cent-per-gallon fuel tax to pay for infrastructure repairs — which was a non-starter with the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate.

“Road talks will continue, but at this point no agreements have been made with regards to a road plan,” said Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann. McCann added that the House and Senate have a tentative budget agreement, but with Whitmer’s administration coming to the table, there may be some changes.

The budget is due by midnight on September 30th. Whitmer previously said she would not sign a budget without a comprehensive plan to put billions of dollars into fixing the state’s roads. The proposal she put in front of the state Legislature included a 45-cent gas and fuel tax increase, which Republican lawmakers called a non-starter. But Whitmer continually said that Republicans did not put forward a better idea, though Shirkey previously said they presented Whitmer with four proposals.

Now Whitmer says in order to avoid a shutdown, she’s willing to work on roads later.

“It’s not fun to be the adult in the room sometimes, but the fact of the matter is we’ve got important work to do in keeping the state of Michigan open and running,” Whitmer told reporters Monday afternoon following a Grand Rapids event.

Whitmer also told reporters that some lawmakers actually want a shutdown, but she’s not going to let it happen.

“A shutdown would be catastrophic for a lot of people that are counting on us to get this done and I’m not willing to play games with people’s lives,” she said.

But Speaker Lee Chatfield said the only people who have publicly talked about a shutdown is the governor’s administration.

“We’ve been committed since day one to passing a responsible budget, putting it on her desk, while also having a conversation about roads,” he said in an interview. “So, I’m glad we finally pivoted to focusing on the budget.”

Read more: The best and worst roads in Michigan

The agreement should forestall the prospect of a partial government shutdown October First, the start of the state’s new fiscal year.

The Legislature resumes its session this week.

This post was updated Sept. 9, 2019, at 4:46 p.m.

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Radio’s Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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