Snyder: Re-election shows lawmakers can back tax hikes

Chad Livengood, and Melissa Burden

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder is pointing to his own re-election last fall as evidence that fellow Republicans can feel safe voting for tax increases to support road repairs, while summer-long negotiations with lawmakers continue to slog along.

The Republican governor began publicly advocating for $1.2 billion in higher fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees in early 2013 and continued to do so through his November re-election victory over Democrat Mark Schauer, who opposed a gas tax increase.

“I got re-elected, so I think it proves we can talk about these issues and still be successful as long as you’re doing the right thing, the common-sense answer,” Snyder said Wednesday in an interview with The Detroit News at an automotive industry conference in Traverse City.

Snyder continued Wednesday not to take sides on competing road funding plans authored by fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

The Senate narrowly passed a plan last month that cobbles together $1.5 billion more annually for roads by pairing a $822 million gas tax hike with $700 million in cuts to other areas of state government.

The House in June approved a $1.1 billion plan that mostly relies on budget cuts and future tax revenue growth. The House Republican plan contains $120 million in new revenue through raising the 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax rate to the same 19-cents-per-gallon rate levied on unleaded gasoline.

Both plans envision cuts that won’t kick in until the 2018 fiscal year.

“But to the degree you come up with cuts, you should also say where you’re going to cut because I think that’s going to be one of the challenge points,” Snyder said.

After voters defeated the Proposal 1 sales and gas tax increase in a May 5 statewide vote, the governor and legislative leaders hoped to reached an agreement on a “Plan B” road funding plan before the end of summer. Senate leaders initially vowed to forgo a typical two-month summer recess, if necessary, to get a deal done.

But action ground to a halt in mid-July when the House briefly returned to Lansing for closed-door discussions about the Senate plan among the individual Republican majority and Democratic minority caucuses.

House Republicans did not vote on the Senate’s plan and recessed July 18 for a month-long summer break after passing a resolution declaring July “Ice Cream Month” in Michigan. The House is scheduled to return to Lansing on Aug. 18, while the Senate has tentatively planned to be in session on Tuesday.

During the summer recess, Snyder and the Legislature’s four Republican and Democratic leaders have apparently been unable to find a day to meet in person to negotiate a road funding solution.

Last Tuesday, they held a conference call, Snyder said.

“We’re scheduling more meetings or calls,” he said.

Snyder also acknowledged Wednesday he may not get a road funding deal before Labor Day.

“It could take longer, but the main thing is we’re having the dialogue taking place to try to find common ground because again the message I hope they’re hearing — I’ve been hearing it for years — is people don’t like our roads in Michigan,” Snyder told The News.

The governor also indicated he is watching the calendar.

“I’d like to get something done by the end of the year, if not sooner,” Snyder said. “If you look at next year, it’s an election year for the House, so it becomes more challenging as you get into election cycles.”

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, has not ruled out any options for generating more money for road repairs, spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Wednesday.

“We still have a lot of different options on the table and we’re working hard to whittle them down and come up with the best possible solution,” D’Assandro said. “I don’t think anything is completely off the table.”

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