Wages and Detroit done. Roads up next?


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — It has been an unexpectedly busy and unusually bipartisan session in Lansing.

First, the Senate passed a minimum wage bill and the House signed off on it. The House then passed a $195 million financial package for Detroit and the Senate gave it the OK.

And it all went fairly smoothly as legislators have been working in a bipartisan way. That’s uncommon when working on such politically-charged issues — especially in an election year and only weeks before a primary.

“In election years, often legislators try to get the heck out of town and start knocking doors, but I think this is a unique time,” Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-Lansing) said.

“This is an election year and most of the leadership isn’t running for re-election. We’re concerned about those majorities and minority kind of things, but I think we’re all of the same mindset that we really want to get things done,” Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) said.

So what’s with all the heavy lifting?

“We have our philosophical differences, but the issues you mentioned (the minimum wage and Detroit) are big issues facing our state and I think we’ve all tried to work together on finding  possible solutions,” Richardville said.

“I don’t know what the reason is. I’m just glad that it happens when it does. It happens far too infrequently around here where we have people come together and get sort of a critical mass  to take on some of these big issues,” Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) said.

Cooperation on a continuing basis in Lansing isn’t rare — but when it comes to the most divisive and expensive issues, sometimes it just isn’t there.

There’s one more big piece of legislation that senators and representatives are still talking about: Roads.

“It’s obvious we all agree that we have to invest more in our roads,” Sen. Dave Hindenbrand (R-Lowell) said. “Our infrastructure in this state needs some more investment. We all agree on that.”

“I certainly believe we need more revenue,” Dillon said. “It’s taken me a long time for me to get there, but there’s just no questioning that it’s going to take more money in the system to fix this kind of crumbling infrastructure that’s been neglected across administrations, across legislatures for far too long.”

“Where the 38 senators and 110 representatives are now is exactly how is the best way to get there and how much more are we going to invest,” Hildenbrand continued.

Lawmakers will also have to explain whatever decision they make to constituents who aren’t always keen on paying more.

“But I’m also getting real hard push back from people back home saying, ‘Just fix the roads. Don’t tell us all the problems, just tell us how you’re going to  solve them.’ So some of us are really trying to do that,” Sen. Richardville said.

And at the end of the day, the investment would have to be a lot of money — probably about $1.2 million each year.

Sen. Whitmer said it would be “the biggest tax increase on people that I will ever have in front of me as a legislator.”

“There are very serious consequences for people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale that have really been burdened with three years of tax shifts,” she said. “As those negotiations proceed, that is the primary concern for me.”

But after the speed at which the Detroit and minimum wage deals were reached, could it happen before the August primary?

“There’s always a chance,” Whitmer said.

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