LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders announced Monday that they will work to enact a state budget without including a long-term funding plan to fix Michigan's deteriorating roads.
The agreement likely forestalls the possibility of an Oct. 1 partial government shutdown. But it also strips the first-year governor of leverage as she seeks a nearly $2 billion influx of new spending on road and bridge construction in a state that ranks second to last nationally in per-capita road spending.
Whitmer had previously said she would not sign a budget without a road-funding deal. She and GOP leaders had been unable to agree on an alternative after her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike was declared dead following its unveiling in March. She warns that without a major investment, the number of roads in poor condition will double, from 22% to 44%, in the next five years.
Whitmer said "some legislators" in the GOP-controlled Legislature want a shutdown of state government for "political reasons" and are unwilling to get serious about addressing the road-funding problem. Republicans based many of their counterproposals on ending the sales tax on fuel and passing an equivalent per-gallon gasoline tax increase, which would boost roads but reduce revenue for schools and municipalities.
"I don't view a shutdown as a game. I don't view it as something that is just a leverage point. I view it as something that's very serious that would have ramifications for our state," Whitmer said after speaking to the Grand Rapids Economic Club. "That's why, as the adult in the room, I said it's time to focus on getting a good budget done. One way or another, we're going to fix the roads in Michigan."
Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield agreed over the weekend to immediately begin working to set spending targets for the budget year that starts Oct. 1.
"We have all agreed to continue conversations about road funding in a meaningful way and table all associated issues for the time being," they said in a joint statement. "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."
The announcement came days after Republicans internally agreed to their own spending levels, without input from Whitmer — setting the stage for a potential veto showdown. Whitmer, who campaigned on a pledge to fix the roads, previously accused GOP leaders of leading the state toward a "Trump-style shutdown," while Chatfield's spokesman said she was holding the budget "hostage" over her "extreme gas tax agenda."
The postponement of discussions on a permanent transportation-funding plan leaves lawmakers and the governor three weeks to finalize a $60 billion budget. Key issues to be resolved include settling how much should go to roads in the coming year and funding schools, which have been operating since July without knowing their state aid.
Whitmer's proposal would pump $523 million, or 4%, more into the K-12 budget, not including federal dollars. Funding would rise between nearly $200 million and $392 million under House and Senate proposals, or 1.3% and 3%.
Whitmer also has called for shifting to a "weighted" funding formula to account for extra costs to educate certain students, but neither the Senate nor House embraced the concept in budget blueprints they adopted in May and June.
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