Senate cancels summer recess to tackle road funding

Gary Heinlein and Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Voters' rejection last week of a $1.3-billion ballot proposal for road repair funding is a big factor in the Michigan Senate leadership's decision Tuesday to hold a rare summer-long schedule of sessions.

Extra sessions also may be needed to complete the new state budget, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, who made the announcement.

"This is not going be a 4 o'clock in the morning project," said Kowall, referring to past legislative deadlines that were met in the middle of the night to handle issues such as the road funding shortfall.

The Senate floor leader said he previously warned senators to "be very careful about setting vacations that you couldn't re-arrange."

The reality sunk in after voters soundly defeated Proposition 1, forcing lawmakers to begin working on an alternative plan to generate at least $1.3 billion more annually for roads.

"We have to adapt to the circumstances that we were dealt," Kowall told The Detroit News. "The leadership felt we've got to get this thing done, so if it means inconveniencing a few people, so be it."

Kowall said he doesn't think the entire $54-billion state budget can be approved by early June, which has been the standard benchmark in the past few years to allow lawmakers to have a two-month summer recess.

"We're going to get done what we can, but the rest of it will come along as we get these road bills done," he said.

Kowall announced the Senate will meet for seven days in June, 11 days in July, nine days in August and Sept. 1-3. Lawmakers usually break for the summer at the end of June and hold only a session or two per month between then and Labor Day.

The House, so far, has not announced plans to meet during the summer. But House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, was scheduled to unveil his new road-funding proposal Wednesday afternoon.

Cotter has said the plan will depend heavily on reshuffling money from restricted funds within the annual state budget — money currently earmarked by law or in the constitution for specific purposes in budgets for departments such as community health and social services.

"We're not waiting for the summer; we're getting to work on this right now," Cotter spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said. "We've already started drafting and introducing bills."

Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, have expressed skepticism the added money for roads could come entirely through a juggling of the annual budget.