Editorial: Let's get this budget done

The Detroit News

As lawmakers return from their summer recess this week, they only have one job that matters: getting a budget done. Compromise will be necessary on all sides, and the Republican leadership and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must iron out their differences. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks with Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield before her State of the State speech in this file photo from Tuesday, February 12, 2019. Michigan lawmakers on Friday approved a sweeping plan to reform the state's no-fault auto insurance system negotiated by Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders.

With the Oct. 1 budget deadline looming, this is starting to feel like a return to the dysfunctional days of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. We understand that under divided government it’s going to be more difficult for lawmakers and the governor to agree on shared priorities. During his eight years in office, former Gov. Rick Snyder enjoyed a GOP-controlled Legislature, which made completing early budgets each year an easier goal. 

Since fixing the roads was so pivotal to her campaign, Whitmer is sticking to her 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike. And she wants to see a comparable option included in the Legislature’s budget offering. 

Her $59 billion state budget plan is tied to the fuel tax, which would generate $2.5 billion when phased in by 2021.

More:Whitmer blasts GOP for taking 'vacation' without road, budget deals

More:Whitmer, GOP remain at odds over roads fix after private meeting

Republicans aren’t thrilled about backing such a significant tax hike. Nor have many Democrats openly endorsed the governor’s plan.

Top business groups in the state, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan and Detroit Regional Chamber, have called for action on roads within the budget because of underfunded infrastructure's impact on the state’s economy — but they want a solution by Oct. 1.

Lawmakers and Whitmer must reach a reasonable road funding plan by the budget deadline. A government shutdown — the state has avoided one since 2009 — should not be an acceptable option for our elected leaders, nor should short-term patches to avoid making hard decisions.

Whitmer has chided lawmakers for taking their summer vacation while the budget remained unfinished. Both chambers passed budgets earlier in the year, although the governor has said she wouldn’t take either of them seriously since they don’t come close to her road funding goals.

She did meet Thursday with House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and while they didn’t reach a road funding plan, they are supposedly close to a consensus. Chatfield says "a few details" need ironed out, which revolve around balancing the competing interests of boosting road funding and keeping tax increases to a minimum.

"I'm optimistic that it will happen," Chatfield says of meeting the constitutional budget deadline.

Whitmer has said she’s open to signing a temporary continuation budget if GOP leadership is actively negotiating with her.

That should not be an option. There’s plenty of time to get the work done. The lack of budget certainty has a real and negative impact on a range of state departments. Schools are especially hit hard when they can’t count on a set budget, since their fiscal year started July 1. 

Whitmer has proposed a K-12 classroom increase of $507 million, without any accountability. That is also likely to get pushback from Republicans.

The governor's mantra is “fixing the damn roads.” That’s a fine goal, but more importantly, Michigan needs a damn budget.