LANSING, Mich. – With apologies to Harold Ramis and Bill Murray, it's Ground Hog Day in Lansing.
The clock ticks, our roads get worse, now the snow is about to start flying and there is no new roads deal. It wasn't so long ago Legislators were patting themselves on the back saying they were going to forego their summer recess to get a roads deal. Over and over and over yet again, with more fits than starts, our elected leaders keep trying to find a way to scrape together the $1.2 billion the governor wants to see go into roads and failing. As I am fond of telling my children, trying is nice but it's not "doing."
Today the Senate Majority Leader scheduled a vote where he thought he had the votes to pass the plan the House agreed to last week. That plan offered that $1.2 billion in two $600 million chunks. The first $600 million would be coming from new fees, like a 40 percent jump in vehicle registrations and new taxes on cars and trucks and increased gasoline and diesel taxes. The second chunk would come from cuts in the state's general fund.
Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof, of West Olive, said in a post session news conference today it was the hiked registration fees that prevented his membership from going with the House plan. But according to Local 4 Lansing sources, it appears the real and larger problem is the $600 million in proposed budget cutting. Lansing Democrats are left out of the process because they oppose any plan that cuts the general fund by much of anything. They are actively fighting at every opportunity and at every level to scuttle this plan.
So Senate Republican phones have been ringing from every constituent depending on state dollars -- the university system first among them -- worried that their corner of the budget will end up cut. Taking those cuts would be damaging and they are reminding lawmakers that those kinds of cuts could be costly next election season. The Republicans whose votes were counted on when today's vote was scheduled decided they weren't onboard after all. They backed out and left leadership holding the bag on trying to end this endless debate over how to do a state government's most basic task: provide good roads.
It's back to the drawing board yet again. House Speaker Kevin Cotter, of Mount Pleasant, said when his package passed last week that there was no room for negotiation, that the House went as far as it could and would not renegotiate its position. He has held firm on that. Today it was the House bill scheduled for the vote, and it was that bill that couldn't garner the Senate votes. So the sausage making began. Leadership met (that's Cotter and Meekhof) and there were proposals passed back and forth to the point where substitute bills were trotted into caucus rooms. Pressure is mounting on Cotter to give somewhere.
There are some moving parts, like proposed dates for when taxes would kick in and fees would be hiked, that might be workable, according to Meekhof. He said there appears room to cut a deal. But after eight hours of debate and talks, it became obvious around 3:45pm there would be no vote and they pulled the plug on the session shortly after 4 p.m.
The expectation now is that they will continue "trying" to get a bill. There is an eye on Thursday for a possible next vote. But considering how difficult votes were hard to find today, it's more likely than not that Thursday will come and go without a bill.
After the hearings let out Gov. Rick Snyder called the leadership into his Capitol office and put out a statement:
"I met and talked with both the Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker late this afternoon. I believe there is strong momentum to provide the resources we need to halt decades of decline in our roads and bridges, making them safer for Michiganders now and for years to come. There is room to work in the days ahead to ensure a comprehensive transportation solution that's fiscally responsible and allows us to continue investing in our core priorities that help Michiganders and fuel our state's comeback. I look forward to continuing this critical work with our partners in the Legislature and getting a solution in place in the near future."
Sadly though, if feels like the alarm clock just went off and Sonny and Cher are singing "I Got You Babe." All of Michigan reaches for the snooze alarm as it once again realizes "We Still Got Crummy Roads, Babe!"
We'll see you in Lansing Thursday, maybe!