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Whitmer and legislative leaders reach consensus: budget first, roads later

IPR file photo

Negotiations to come up with a long-term plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads have been put on hold. Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican legislative leadership announced Monday that their main priority is the budget.

Whitmer, Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey released a joint statement on Monday morning following a weekend of discussions.

"We have all agreed to continue conversations about road funding in a meaningful way and table all associated issues for the time being. 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," says the statement.

“Road talks will continue, but at this point no agreements have been made with regards to a road plan,” says Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Shirkey, adding that the House and Senate have a tentative budget agreement, but with Whitmer’s administration coming to the table there may be some changes.

The budget is due by midnight on Sept. 30. Whitmer previously said she would not sign a budget without a comprehensive plan to put billions of dollars into fixing the state’s roads.

The proposal she put in front of the state Legislature included a 45-cent gas and fuel tax increase, which Republican lawmakers called a non-starter. But Whitmer continually said that Republicans did not put forward a better idea, though Shirkey previously said they presented Whitmer with four proposals.

Now Whitmer says in order to avoid a shutdown, she’s willing to work on roads later.

“It’s not fun to be the adult in the room sometimes, but the fact of the matter is we’ve got important work to do in keeping the state of Michigan open and running,” Whitmer told reporters Monday afternoon following a Grand Rapids event.

Whitmer also told reporters that some lawmakers actually want a shutdown, but she’s not going to let it happen.

“A shutdown would be catastrophic for a lot of people that are counting on us to get this done, and I’m not willing to play games with people’s lives,” says Whitmer.

Speaker Lee Chatfield says the only people who have publicly talked about a shutdown is the governor’s administration.

“We’ve been committed since day one to passing a responsible budget, putting it on her desk, while also having a conversation about roads,” he says. “So, I’m glad we finally pivoted to focusing on the budget.”