Skubick: Republican lawmakers inch toward road funding deal

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Legislative Republicans are inching toward a final package on how to pay for fixing Michigan’s battered roads.

But what’s in, and what’s out of, the deal?

The governor has been waiting impatiently for months to hear from the Republicans on their alternative to her 45-cent gas tax hike to fix the roads.

And there are strong signals the Republican lawmakers are very close to doing just that.

Senate Republican leader Mike Shirkey anchored an unusual telephone caucus meeting this afternoon to lay out some final proposals, which do not include creating toll roads in Michigan, at least not in the short term.

One key Republican negotiator confirms that the issue will be studied but as a quick revenue source, it’s not.

“It’s not going to happen,” insists Sen. Kurt Vanderwall. “It would take two to three years to do a proper study. It’s definitely a piece we’re looking at.”

That’s fine with the governor, who looked at toll roads and decided against them.

“Our tolls would be largely on people who come here for tourism and residents,” explained Gov. Whitmer. “It’s also complicated by the fact that the federal government has restrictions on roads that you can toll. So we need a real solution and that’s why I put a gas tax on the table.”

The governor and teachers are likely to oppose one element that is in the Republican road plan:  refinancing the $30 billion debt in the teachers retirement account.

Currently lawmakers are spending $980 million a year to reduce the teacher retirement debt.

The Republican leaders want to take that money and use it for roads.  And then they would sell $10  billion in bonds over thirty years to continue to pay off of the debt.

Conservative lobbyist Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund thinks its a good idea.

“It’s not adding new debt to the system. It makes sure we pay that debt so future lawmakers cut stop paying that debt.”

As to whether some teachers could argue they feel at risk, Daunt says “they’re at risk now.”

Republican Senator Vanderwall is not ready to vote “yes” on the refinancing scheme which one national group has described as “very speculative.”

“Oooh, we are looking at it but we need to make sure that the teachers retirement fund is guaranteed given what might happen down the road.”

So does that mean he’s a “yes” vote? “We  need more details on it,” said the senator.

Look for the Republican leaders to pop their plan this week or next.  

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