No Road Funding as Legislators Go Home

Lansing, Mich. Long hours without an agreement on a way to fund Michigan's crumbling roads had lawmakers frustrated and flustered Thursday night.

"Sadly, we don't have a solution yet," said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). "I think the public should be furious."

The legislature picked up where it left off Thursday -- reconvening at 10 a.m. after finally adjourning at 1:30 a.m. -- passing various pieces of legislation, including the state budget, but without making progress on the roads.

Several smaller bills were passed over the last 48 hours. Agreements were reached on modifying the tax on diesel fuel and freezing fees on vehicle registrations.

But the deal to raise more than $1 billion to fix the roads fell flat, as did several alternate proposals that would have raised a fraction of that amount.

"The other side of the aisle didn't want to participate in fixing the short-term problems here and voted against most of them," said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), who led the charge on much of the legislation. "We need bipartisan support, we need bicameral support. We've had quadrant meetings, we've put a lot of things on the table. It's a difficult vote, it's an election year. But sooner or later you have to bite the bullet and do the difficult things."

As the senate struggled to eke out an agreement, the house ordered pizza, waiting "at ease" and hoping the senate would pass a bill back to the other chamber.

"It's been very frustrating," said Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing). "The House of Representatives passed a bill weeks ago. We all know that road funding is very important. And unfortunately Senate Republicans have been playing games for the last two days."

Republican Rep. Earl Poleski (R-Jackson) admitted it would be hard to tell constituents they would have to wait for the fall for road funding. But even so he didn't seem to bothered by waiting around.

"Of course the time it takes is always difficult to endure," he said. "But that's part of the legislative process: To make sure that what we have sent over is acceptable to the senate."

Gov. Rick Snyder praised lawmakers Thursday afternoon for working to find money for the roads. He said the senate was making "good progress" even after "a difficult night" Wednesday.

"Ultimately we need something not going through one chamber but going through both chambers that involves more revenue," he said. "So that's my goal is to see that being done in a thoughtful fashion and hopefully a bipartisan fashion."

Snyder said he would even be ok with a much smaller financial plan, even a Republican-pitched revenue-neutral plan that was met with rolling eyes from some Democrats.

"We just need to continue relentless positive action or positive steps forward until ultimately -- and ultimately I clearly hope is this year -- we have a solution of significant reforms plus additional revenues to really get us on a long-term solution," Snyder said.

The senate adjourned for the summer, expected to return for one day on July 16. Whitmer said she'd like her colleagues to forgo their vacation to work on the road bills.

Richardville said he has an "aggressive plan" to work through the summer before issuing recommendations in September.

He says the state won't run out of money this construction season, thanks to $850-900 million he says has been passed in the last six months.

"But it would be irresponsible if we didn't fix that long-term problem," Richardville said. "I don't think there's been any one that's been more vocal or tried harder and led in this way to put different options on the table. The last year and a half I've been saying this is something we need to address."


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