Local Rep speaks out on budget

LANSING — For now, State Rep. Greg Markkanen is treating the state budget as a settled issue.

“As far as we’re concerned, right now the budget is complete,” he said Thursday. “That doesn’t mean all the needs are met across the state.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a budget into law Monday, hours before the lack of budget would have triggered a partial shutdown of state government.

Whitmer made 147 line-item vetoes in the $59 million budget, cutting $947 million. The vetoes included $375 million of $400 million marked for one-time spending in road funding, which would have come from the general fund.

Of the $375 million, $243 million would have gone toward work on bridges in Dearborn, Ferrysburg, Harrison Township and Lansing. The four bridges were among the sites Whitmer had visited while making the case for new roads funding.

Markkanen, R-Hancock, was unsure how much of the additional funding would have gone to the Upper Peninsula, but said work in the U.P. this summer was already close to outpacing the number of crews available without bringing in out-of-state workers.

“We’re still running on the 2015 road plan,” he said. “If you’ve been anywhere in the U.P. this summer, you know there’s no shortage of construction. We just wanted to maintain the status quo and keep the road crews working, doing what we can with what we have. But of course, (Whitmer) vetoed that.”

Whitmer’s first budget proposal in March included a 45-cent increase in the gas tax, which was projected to raise an annual $2.5 billion. The proposal met with disapproval from House and Senate Republicans, who said any funding should come from pre-existing revenues.

Markkanen said he is opposed to any increase in the gas tax, which he said harms travel to the U.P. The gas tax revenues would also overwhelmingly benefit residents downstate, he said.

“That’s just going to strap our county road commissions,” he said. “We still haven’t recovered from the Father’s Day flood.”

Legislators and Whitmer had set aside talk on long-term road funding until after the passage of the budget. After an impasse on short-term funding, budget talks broke down. Markkanen and other Republicans have said Whitmer had walked away from the table. Whitmer attributed the breakdown in talks to Republican ultimatums on road funding.

Tuesday, Whitmer announced the redistribution of $625 million within the state budget to other agencies.

The reallocations were praised by the Michigan League for Public Policy, which praised moves such as adding $9 million in workforce development training for Healthy Michigan enrollees.

“We may not agree with all of Gov. Whitmer’s budget decisions and are certainly concerned about the fate of some proven, successful programs, but we are optimistic that this is just another step in the process and room for compromise is still there,” President Gilda Jacobs said in a statement.

Markkanen was critical of budget cuts that could affect rural areas, such as the cuts to the secondary road patrol, including $16.6 million for rural hospitals and $13 million for secondary road patrols, which pay for sheriff’s departments to add patrols outside cities or villages. Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties received a combined $118,192 in 2018, according to state figures.

“In counties like Keweenaw County, this is critical funding, because they don’t have a municipal police up there,” he said.

Whitmer has said some of her line-item vetoes could be reversed in new negotiations.

Markkanen encouraged residents to express their concerns to the governor’s office.

“These are all programs that were cut out of our budget,” he said. “Now she wants to look at a supplementary budget, when we already had a budget to cover all these already? It’s a bit redundant.”

If both sides come back to the table on a supplemental budget, Markkanen said one of his top priorities would be helping Houghton County get more match money to repair road damage from the 2018 flood.

“The whole community has a lot invested in it, so we need to carry that out,” he said.