War of words heats up between Whitmer, Republicans over road funding

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hosts a media roundtable discussion about budget negotiations.
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) (8/28/2019) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she won't sign a "status-quo" budget, stepping up her criticism of Republican legislative leaders for "not offering a viable alternative" to her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike to fix the roads.

The Democratic governor held a news conference Wednesday, about a month before the state budget deadline. She says GOP lawmakers are "screwing around" and have not offered a legitimate plan nearly six months after she made her proposal.

"My hope is that the Republican Legislature, who has had this budget for six months, is going to get serious about putting a viable alternative on the table -- that they are going to come to the table ready to a real solution now so that we can avoid a government shutdown," Whitmer said.

State Rep. Michelle Hoitenga said Republicans already have presented "very reasonable" budget plans, but Whitmer is pretending they don't exist. They would add $800 million a year for roads and $226 million a year for schools without raising taxes.

“The governor said she was serious about fixing the roads. If she really meant it, she would show some leadership and help build a bipartisan plan that works for taxpayers, families and all Michigan residents," Hoitenga said.

A budget deal between Whitmer and Republicans is due by Oct. 1, when the new state fiscal year begins.

Republicans say drivers oppose a 45-cent gas tax increase. State Rep. Jason Sheppard of Temperance called Whitmer's proposal "unworkable" and "especially disastrous" for communities along the state line.

“Do you know what a 45-cent gas tax will do in my hometown? It will shutter small businesses, like gas stations, as drivers head to Ohio to fill up their tanks," he said.

Sheppard said Republicans are exploring all options for funding roads, because gas tax will become a more difficult option as vehicles get more fuel efficient and drivers purchase less gas.

“This Legislature has been committed to researching and exploring those options and shared them with the governor, who has dismissed every option in favor of her $2.5 billion tax hike," he said.

Whitmer also officially ruled out taking longer to address unfunded liabilities in the Public School Employees' Retirement System to free up revenue for roads. She said she refuses to "kick the can down the road."

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