Whitmer says she, GOP leaders ‘desperate’ to avoid shutdown

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday that she and Republican legislative leaders are “desperate” to avoid a government shutdown, and she may propose a stopgap budget measure as long as there are “good-faith” negotiations about spending more to fix the roads.

The Democratic governor spoke after inspecting an aging bridge in Lansing, not far from the Capitol to which lawmakers will return later this month following a summer break. She again sought to bring attention to what she called an “infrastructure crisis” five months after proposing a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase that has gone nowhere in the GOP-led Legislature.

The impasse over her $2.5 billion plan has left the state without a budget for the fiscal year that starts in October.

Whitmer said she spoke with GOP leaders on Friday and anticipates seeing something “more concrete” from them in the next couple weeks. Spokespeople for House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Mike Shirkey confirmed the meeting but did not commit to a specific timeline for announcing a road-funding proposal.

The governor said she is confident she will ask legislators to pass a temporary budget if a yearlong spending plan cannot be finished by Oct. 1, but Republicans are negotiating in good faith. The last time that happened was 2009, when lawmakers voted for a 30-day budget to end a partial government shutdown that lasted less than a day amid an economic downturn.

“If we’ve got good-faith negotiations and hiccups happen, I think we’ve got to have a backup plan,” she said. “My understanding from both the leaders is they’re desperate to avoid any sort of a shutdown, too.”

Whitmer said if there is no “real progress” and bills are not sent to her desk by mid-September, she will have to consider contingency plans. School districts did not know their state funding by July 1, the start of their fiscal year, for the first time in a decade.

Some ideas under GOP consideration include borrowing $10 billion to boost the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System and free up money for additional annual road spending — a concept strongly opposed by Whitmer — or extending the date by which unfunded liabilities would be paid off beyond 2038. The latter option could similarly reduce school spending by between $475 million and $800 million a year, making it easier to remove the sales tax on fuel that mostly goes to schools and municipalities and to pass an equivalent per-gallon tax to better fund roads.