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Another roads plan bites the dust in Lansing (and we’re not surprised)

Aug 24, 2015

Once again lawmakers are starting over as another road funding plan collapsed late last week in Lansing.

What really happened?

The latest effort to come up with more than a billion dollars for roads had pitted Republicans against Republicans. The GOP has a 63 to 46 advantage over Democrats in the state House, and a 27 to 11 margin in the state Senate. Those numbers led to the idea that GOP leaders could develop a Republican-only roads solution without having to deal with the Democrats.

But, when GOP leaders went shopping new taxes and fees to the Republican rank-and-file, they got a big ol’ chorus of, “nope.”

600/600

So, the Republican leadership started moving the revenue number down but that, of course, meant the 

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number for cutting other parts of the budget went up. For awhile there was this idea that maybe lawmakers could get to $1.2 billion for roads by $600 million from new revenue and $600 million from budget cuts.

But, that idea got kicked down swiftly because most everyone hated it - universities, community colleges, local governments, among others, all said the $600 million in cuts that would be required were unacceptable and they lobbied fiercely to kill it. And a critical mass of Republicans said they were unwilling to get behind $600 million in new revenue.

Up the ante

And that wasn’t the end of the story: as the number on the budget-cutting side of the ledger grew, Governor Snyder’s team upped the stakes - they threw in the need for Medicaid revenue.

They believed the Legislature was steering the budget toward a new set of crises if they were actually thinking about $600 million in new budget cuts. So, the governor possibly sending a little message: that there’s a lot of stuff you’re messing with by moving money from the General Fund to a dedicated fund for roads.

And, it’s not just the issue of a Medicaid shortfall. Remember, for example, earlier this year when all those business tax credits were suddenly cashed in? Welcome to Deficit City.

Not to mention big legal judgments, natural or environmental disasters, and all of the other unanticipated expenses that can play havoc on a state budget.

The here and now

So, the administration basically saying, “Hey, don’t rob yourself - or us - of the flexibility to deal with these sorts of things in the future.”

They’re trying to induct some long-term thinking into the discussions. But, as we’ve seen in Lansing, long-term thinking can certainly make it hard to strike a deal in the here and now.