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For The Week Of July 14, 2019 Through July 20, 2019

The Michigan Legislature: Where Things Are Different, But Also The Same

By Alethia Kasben
Staff Writer
Posted: July 15, 2019 3:51 PM

Four years ago today, Gongwer ran a story titled: "House Adjourns With No Roads Vote, Will Return Next Week." The year was 2015, the Courser-Gamrat scandal had not yet broken. And, much like 2019, Republicans were trying to come up with a road funding plan. With minimal new revenue.

However, in 2015, the Senate passed a 15-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase, with the help of then-Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who had to break a 19-19 vote to pass the increase. The House did not take that up.

Eventually, between late October and early November, after the Courser-Gamrat scandal and expulsion had passed, the House took up its plan to slightly increase the gas tax. The final proposal included a 7.3 cent tax increase and registration fee increases to get to $600 million in new revenue for roads.

Back then, business groups "mostly hailed" the Legislature's actions, Gongwer wrote. Those groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, are now calling for more investments into infrastructure.

Others called the plan underwhelming. The Detroit Regional Chamber said, "this appears the best this Legislature can do."

Many of these same groups and individuals are involved in road funding discussions today. The question remains if they will offer tepid praise of whatever passes the Legislature in 2019, if they will be left disappointed or if the state will see a plan everyone agrees upon.

There were some key differences in the dynamics of 2015 and now. First, with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in office, Republicans are talking to Democrats. In 2015, it is unclear how much then-Speaker Kevin Cotter and then-Minority Leader Tim Greimel actually spoke. I don't think it was often. The 2015 roads plan passed with almost all Republican votes.

It also appeared then that Mr. Cotter and former Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof didn't have the best relationship.

Now, it at least seems like Ms. Whitmer has a working relationship with Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker Lee Chatfield. The two Republican leaders also get along, which is a change from recent years.

So, there seems to be some valid reasons for observers seeking a roads plan to be optimistic. But will the state see a plan that funds roads long term? Or will I be writing in four years about a future Legislature struggling to pass a road funding plan?

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