Calm Before the Storm in Lansing
The Michigan Legislature is slated to come back into session at the end of August for what is shaping up to be a busy September, and busy behind-the-scenes leading up to then as legislative leaders and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer begin negotiations on next year’s state budget set to take effect on October 1.
House and Senate Republicans have not unveiled a formal road funding counterproposal to the Governor’s proposed 45-cent gas tax hike, and are unlikely to do. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has noted publically that he and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) have begun meeting with Governor Whitmer on both road funding on the paramaters of what each can agree upon and what needs additional work with just over a month left until the start of the upcoming fiscal year.
The preference of both leaders in the Legislature continues to be redirecting existing resources towards roads in excess of $1 billion via increased General Fund appropriations and cuts elsewhere in the state budget combined with changes to pension debt repayment schedules. However, the House and Senate appear to disagree with respect to where to go from there, with Shirkey expressing an openness to additional revenue but Chatfield indicating the House is likely a much harder sell. Likewise, the House appears open to further budget cuts in order to transfer additional General Fund to roads while the Senate is hesitant to do so. While Governor Whitmer has noted she would be open to a “continuation budget” enabling discussions to continue beyond October 1 if all parties continue to negotiate in good faith, Shirkey does not believe the parties will exceed the October 1 deadline.
While we await budget negotiations, one of the few policy items that has otherwise garnered some attention in Lansing from both sides of the aisle is is workforce development, as legislators consider a proposal by Gov. Whitmer titled “Michigan Reconnect”. The initative is modeled after a successful program in Tennessee that seeks to enable individuals 25 years of age or older who are already working but want to earn an industry certificate or associate degree in an in-demand industry to do so in a tuition-free community college setting. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce testified earlier this summer in support of the proposal, which may indicate another high-profile poicy issue where the Governor and Legislature can find common ground, after enactment of long sought-after reforms to Michigan’s no-fault insurance system this past spring. Of course, the question here is whether the Legislature be willing to fund such a new program given other pressing demands in the budget.
In addition to Michigan Reconnect, the Whitmer Administration and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have indicated a desire to expand Career & Technical Eduation (CTE) programming and career exploration opportunitites for students not necessarily interested in traditional college preparatory programs to ensure every student has a path to success. GLTPA looks forward to working together with Governor Whitmer and the Legislature to address the challenges our industry and related industries face with respect to the need to provide educational and training opportunities not only for our young people, but for individuals seeking to change professions or reenter the workforce as well.
Stay tuned for a wild ride this September, and I look forward to sharing new developments as they arise.