LANSING – Road funding, energy policy overhaul and addressing a dire situation with Detroit Public Schools topped the list of priorities from Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof on Wednesday as the Senate returned to work.
Meekhof (R-West Olive) said little about road funding discussions – as has been the case with all of the leaders who have been meeting over the summer – only that the Legislative Quadrant consisting of himself, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) met again with the administration of Governor Rick Snyder Wednesday and that he was “hopeful.”
“Good conversation and I’m think we’re working towards some solution,” Meekhof said. “Not all of them are comfortable for all of us in the room but good progress I think.”
He did not budge on a question whether a compromise would be met on the use of existing revenues given the Senate proposal recommended $750 million from the General Fund and the House proposal was at $600 million.
“We’re not going to do anything that puts the budget out of balance,” he said. “So we’ve got to figure that out. We have expected expenses we’ll have, but we have to account for that.”
Asked if that number could then go “significantly down” to account for that budget, Meekhof said he didn’t know if it would be “significantly up, down or sideways,” but reiterated “we’re not going to put the budget at risk.”
Pressed on whether budgetary issues such as the Health Insurance Claims Assessment should then be wrapped into the discussion on roads, Meekhof said HICA is a separate issue. But he did not say specifically that road funding solution would be a strictly clean bill that only dealt with road funding.
“There’s a number of moving parts yet. When you work on one thing or make solutions for one, you impact other things. So they’re all connected,” he said.
Beyond roads, Meekhof pointed to energy legislation being debated in the Senate Energy and Technology Committee as a priority that the caucus would work on through the fall. That committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday but neither of the energy-related bills, SB 437* and SB 438, are scheduled for discussion.
Another large looming issue in front of the caucus, Meekhof said, is dealing with Detroit Public Schools, for which Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) was designated as the point person. Meekhof and Hansen will be working with a lot of members from the Democratic caucus, Meekhof said, “to figure out how we do this well.”
“A solution for the kids to be productive citizens in the future is very, very important to us. We’ll deal with the debt thing,” he said. “We understand there’s issues with the numbers and the adults, but if we don’t put a viable, sustainable solution in front of these kids so they can get an education, it’s going to be increasingly difficult in the future for our budget to support any social costs.”
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