The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 20, 2019

News Briefs

By The Building Tradesman

State budget, road talks crash

LANSING - At this rate, the damn roads are never going to get fixed.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate this month failed to reach a grand bargain that would have combined a substantial funding mechanism to fund road repairs along with passage of the state's 2020 budget.

Whitmer earlier this month decided to untie the two major fiscal matters, in order to focus on passage of the state budget, which flips over into a new funded year on Oct. 1. The governor started the conversation by seeking to increase the gasoline tax to yield about $2 billion per year for road repairs. Republicans in the Legislature declined to go along with a such a drastic (45 cents) hike in the gasoline tax, and an agreement on a lesser amount has not been made. Further negotiations on added road repair revenues are expected after a budget settlement.

"Our sincere efforts to reach consensus on budget targets came to an abrupt end when my governor ended negotiations this afternoon," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) in a Sept. 11 statement. "A negotiation must include parties that put forth genuine effort to compromise and reach consensus. We could not have predicted that our talks would break down over my governor wanting less money to fix the roads, but in the end, we could not accommodate her position."

Shirkey's plan would use $500 million from existing tax revenues to repair the roads, but Whitmer didn't want to exceed the $130 million that was allocated under a formula set by the Republican Legislature in 2015, and take money from other state departments.

"Let's be very clear. Republicans wasted two months by going on vacation this summer instead of staying in Lansing to negotiate," the governor said in her own statement. "That's the only reason we don't have a budget right now. After months of inaction, the best plan they could come up with would steal money from other priorities and doesn't fix the roads.

"This status quo budgeting will only keep our roads the worst in the nation and our schools at the back of the pack. It's not a real solution, and it won't solve the crises our state is facing in education and infrastructure. Our citizens expect government to function, and I remain committed to doing that despite continued Republican actions to the contrary."

Operators' strike vs. Rieth continues

A strike by Operating Engineers Local 324 members against Indiana-based Rieth-Riley Construction has continued into its seventh week. Their 200 road construction and asphalt equipment operators are protesting unfair labor practices by the company, which has about 90 projects in Michigan.

“The Operating Engineers at Reith-Riley have repeatedly shown themselves to be dedicated and hardworking, and instead of being rewarded they have suffered at the hands of the company,” said Operating Engineers 324 Business Manager Douglas Stockwell. “Our workers have negotiated in good faith and the National Labor Relations Board has offered Reith-Riley a settlement to avoid a trial over unfair labor practice charges. Through it all, Rieth-Riley has refused to act in the best interests of its employees, and in light of the hardships Reith-Riley has placed on our workers and their families, we are left with no other recourse than a strike to protect our hardworking men and women.”