Finley: This is D-Day for a roads deal

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
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House members should come to Lansing Tuesday with their sleeping bags, flashlights and snacks, and be prepared to stay until they pass an acceptable solution for fixing Michigan’s roads.

This is crunch time. House members are the hold-up in getting a roads deal done, and there is intense internal and external pressure to put this lingering headache to rest by Labor Day.

Summertime lobbying is said to be producing positive results, and expectations are high that this short session will deliver a bill the House, Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder can accept.

“We’ve never been this close before,” a business leader told me.

But close is not good enough. Lawmakers can’t walk away from Lansing one more time without a roads deal. The reason supporters are optimistic is that the consequences for not passing a bill have multiplied since the Legislature recessed for the summer.

For one thing, three construction unions, supported by the Democratic Party, have launched a petition drive to raise the Corporate Income Tax by more than $900 million, with the money ostensibly going to the roads (although that’s not guaranteed). If successful, the proposal would go on the Nov. 2016 ballot, when all House seats are up for election.

The fear is that voters tired of bad roads and no Legislative answer will leap on the chance to get their highways fixed with someone else footing the bill, regardless of the devastation it would wreak on the state economy.

And as the 2016 election cycle gets nearer, the odds of reaching an agreement that requires raising taxes become longer. Still, Republicans fully understand that not finding a roads fix could easily cost them control of the House.

So this should be an intense session. Speaker Kevin Cotter and his chief lieutenants on the issue — Rep. Al Pscholka, chair of appropriations, and Rep. Jeff Farrington, chair of tax policy, must prove they can lead. They’ve got to get at least 55 of the 63-member GOP caucus to back a compromise plan.

The House has stuck stubbornly to an all-cuts solution that is unacceptable to both the governor and Senate. The compromise point seems to be raising $750 million from an increase in fuel taxes and registration fees, and the same amount from reprioritizing spending.

Any plan will have to pass without Democratic votes. Democrats are content to ride their ballot proposal and watch Republicans fight.

Complicating everything is the sex scandal engulfing GOP Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, which is consuming time and energy Cotter and the other leaders should be spending lining up votes. The upside is that the two most anti-tax members have lost their voice.

Getting a road deal done would be the perfect way to distract from the shenanigans of individual members and demonstrate the House is a functional body.


Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.

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