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Mich. GOP leaders criticize Whitmer's lack of details on plan to fix roads

By Paul Egan/Detroit Free Press (TNS) • Feb 16, 2019 at 4:00 PM

LANSING – Republican leaders in the Michigan House and Senate said Wednesday they agree with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that more revenue is needed to fix the state's crumbling roads, but they criticized her first State of the State address for lacking specifics and for "missed opportunities."

Both House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said they largely embrace the priorities Whitmer outlined in a speech at the Capitol on Tuesday night.

"We have differences on how," Shirkey said at a news conference in the Speaker's office in Lansing.

The speech contained good ideas but also "campaign trail rhetoric," Chatfield said.

"The campaign trail has ended and now it's time to govern," said Chatfield. "You need specificity, and you need details."

Both said they want more specifics and Chatfield said he would have liked to have seen the governor give more attention to reducing Michigan's highest-in-the-nation auto insurance premiums and to criminal justice reform.

On roads, "there's no way we're going to fix this problem that's been 50 years in the making without coming up with new revenues for infrastructure," said Shirkey. But he said the state still needs to identify how much more is needed and how it would be raised. He said he's not ready to support new user fees at this time.

Chatfield said "everyone has identified our roads need new revenue," but he's not convinced they should come from more taxes at the pump. He said many ideas must be explored.

Whitmer, a Democrat, called for a bipartisan approach to tackling "crises" related to schools, job skills, and road and drinking water infrastructure.

But she annoyed some Republicans with references to pork-barrel spending and sweetheart deals when the former Legislature — in which the current House and Senate leaders were lawmakers — passed a $1.3-billion supplemental spending bill on the last day of the lame-duck session in December.

Whitmer has promised details on her road plan and other measures in her budget presentation March 5.

House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said the governor is right to propose a "real plan" that will resolve the road quality issue once and for all. That will require both more money and better road repair practices, Greig said.

"That conversation is bigger than one 60-minute speech and I’m pleased Gov. Whitmer got the conversation started ... so that we can come together in the coming weeks and months to work out the specific details with experts who know how to get the job done," she said.

Whitmer and Republican lawmakers are also at odds over a recent Whitmer executive order that reorganized the former Department of Environmental Quality as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, with greater emphasis on safe drinking water and responding to climate change.

The most contentious part of the order abolished industry-dominated committees that could review and overturn department decisions on environmental rules and permits. The Legislature created the committees by statute just last year, and the state House has already voted to reject the executive order over the committee issue. If the Senate follows suit, the executive order will be nullified.

Whitmer said she isn't backing down on the order and accused lawmakers who voted against it of voting against clean drinking water. Some Republican lawmakers said they were offended by that charge from Whitmer, who took office Jan. 1.

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