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State lawmakers square off in public debate on road funding

Posted at 6:52 PM, Oct 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-20 18:52:28-04

LANSING, Mich. — While negotiations on a road funding deal remain stalled in the legislature, Republican Senator Patrick Colbeck issued a challenge to any Democrat to a public debate on the issue.

Senator Curtis Hertel accepted his challenge.

The two faced off Tuesday at the capitol, debating for about an hour while answering questions from the audience.

The debate comes one week after legislative leaders in both parties walked away from closed door meetings, claiming they'd reached an impasse on a possible deal.

The reason? It appears to boil down to disagreements over tax cuts that would ultimately serve to offset proposed increases in the state's vehicle registration fees and the 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax.

Republicans are fighting hard for across-the-board income tax cuts, something leadership claims has been on the table since private "quadrant" meetings between Governor Rick Snyder and leadership began in August.

Colbeck said he has a plan to fix the state's crumbling roads, and he said the plan would not require raising taxes. The senator from Wayne County said cutting existing expenses is the way to go.

Colbeck also said the state could make the badly needed repairs by spending $700 million instead of the projected $1.2 billion that's needed -- by purchasing a special concrete that will last longer.

Hertel, who represents Ingham County, said he wanted to hear specific line items to be cut and wanted to know what impact those cuts would have on Michigan citizens.

Hertel told FOX 17, "I think that if you're going to lay out a plan that's going to cut our way to prosperity, you should actually lay out what those cuts are. The cuts that he laid out were no where near or close to the $1.2 billion."

He added, "We still don't have a plan other than one company that he points to, to actually be able to make a long term road [fix]. We all want better roads. But we all also have to live in reality, and I just don't think that's what the senator is doing."

Colbeck told FOX 17, "Every time that I presented some of the topics that we talked about throughout the district and frankly I've gone around the state...  it's been a very positive response."

He added, "So I think part of the issue is that people haven't heard this side of the story."

Colbeck said he is optimistic that lawmakers can come up with $1.2 billion without raising taxes. Hertel said he doesn't think that's possible.

A Senate plan from Republicans passed during the summer called for reducing the state’s 4.25 percent income tax, but those cuts would rely on growth of general fund exceeding inflation. However the plan also called for a 15-cent gas tax hike over three years tied to inflation, giving it little traction with House Republicans, some of whom are reluctant to support any type of tax increase.