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CapCon’s Top 10 Stories For 2019

Road Fix That Wasn’t, Gun-Free Zones, 1,100 Windmills Won’t Replace This Coal Plant

In 2019, Michigan Capitol Confidential readers were most interested in reading about plans to spend more on fixing roads. Or not spending more, as it turned out.

Four of this news site’s most popular stories in 2019 were directly related to road funding.

CapCon’s story of the year, the one that drew the most web traffic, was about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal for an annual state budget that required a permanent 45-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax. We reported that while the first rounds of the phased-in tax hike would have brought in an estimated $1.26 billion, Whitmer’s budget proposal only allocated a $764 million more to transportation funding.

Here are the top 10 CapCon stories for 2019:

No. 1

Headline: 40 Percent Of Whitmer’s 2020 Gas Tax Hike Won’t Support Roads

From the story: A large portion of the 45-cent increase in the state gas tax proposed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will not go to the state’s transportation budget

The first two tax hikes would increase the tax by 30 cents and bring in an additional $1.26 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year. But documents submitted by Whitmer as part of her executive budget recommendation on Tuesday [March 5] indicate that the net increase to transportation funding will be just $764 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

No. 2

Headline: Even Without Tax Hikes State Will Collect $1.2 Billion More Next Year

From the story: Even before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed tax hikes as part of an annual budget that will collect and spend an additional $2.63 billion next year, budget officials had been projecting that the state would bring in an additional $1.2 billion with no tax hikes.

No. 3

Headline: Michigan Road Funding Doubled In 10 Years

From the story: At a time when some politicians are calling Michigan’s roads dangerous, state funding for transportation is projected to have nearly doubled over a 10-year period.

State dollars dedicated to transportation in Michigan are projected to have increased from $1.97 billion in 2010-11 to $3.93 billion in the 2020-21 state fiscal year. The figures include state money only, not federal or local dollars.

No. 4

Headline: Republicans Imposed Medicaid Work Requirements; Governor Wants To Undo Them

From the story: Michigan’s new Democratic governor is trying to reverse course on steps taken by her Republican predecessor to require childless, able-bodied beneficiaries of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion to meet work, training or community service requirements. In a February letter to the federal administrator of the program, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called the work requirements “onerous.”

No. 5

Headline: Whitmer Suggests Government Shutdown If No Big Gas Tax Hike

From the story: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent per gallon, $2.5 billion motor fuel tax increase has been represented as a plan to spend $2.5 billion more on roads. Bridge Magazine reported the plan would “increase state road funding by $2.5 billion by 2021.” The Small Business Association of Michigan said the plan would “raise $2.5 billion for roads.”

And the budget overview section of the governor’s recent executive budget presentation states, “This plan will generate $2.5 billion in new annual transportation revenue.”

What has not been widely reported is that just $1.9 billion of the $2.5 billion tax increase would go to road repairs. About $600 million of the tax hike, if enacted, would cover government spending that is unrelated to roads and transportation.

No. 6

Headline: Tax Parity? Or Just A Big Tax Hike On Many Michigan Small Businesses?

From the story: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed raising the income tax rate on thousands of Michigan business owners. The increase mostly affects owners of smaller firms, raising their income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 6 percent.

No. 7

Headline: Lawmaker Wants To Make Gun-Free Zones Liable If Someone Hurt

From the story: A Republican state representative has introduced legislation that would hold government offices and private businesses liable if anyone is injured during a shooting in a gun-free zone on their premises.

State Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Clair Township, introduced House Bill 4975, which would revoke governmental immunity from lawsuits arising from injuries sustained on government property where guns are banned.

No. 8

Headline: Report: Michigan Police Kept $15 Million Taken Mostly From ‘Little Guys’ In 2018

From the story: Over 6,000 persons had more than $15 million worth of property and cash seized and kept by Michigan law enforcement agencies in 2018. Many of them were never convicted of a crime or even prosecuted. Those are some of the findings of a report released June 30 by the Michigan State Police on the practice of civil asset forfeiture.

No. 9

Headline: How Michigan Can Fix The Roads Without Tax Hikes

From the story: But fiscal policy analysts at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy disagree. They are working on a road funding solution that relies on projected growth in state revenue and shifting some priorities in the budget. The result, they say, will provide more money for road repairs than the governor’s tax increase can yield.

The Mackinac Center’s list of recommendations is a work in progress, according to fiscal analyst Michael LaFaive. It could produce an extra $2.2 billion for road repairs with no tax increase, he said, which is more than the additional $1.9 billion Whitmer wants to spend next year.

No. 10

Headline: Doubling State’s 1,100 Wind Turbines Won’t Replace This One Coal/Gas Plant

From the story: Consumers Energy would have to double the number of wind turbines currently operating in this state to replace the electricity produced by just one of the coal- and gas-fired power plants it intends to close as part of its plans to rely more on renewable sources. The problem, however, is that those additional turbines only spin about one-third of the time, leaving a big energy gap for the households and businesses that rely on the company for their electricity.

According to a recent report from the state Public Service Commission, regulated utilities and their vendors operate 1,107 industrial wind turbines in Michigan. These can produce 1,925.3 megawatts of electricity, but only when the wind is blowing.

Compare that to the Dan E. Karn generation plant in Bay County, which Consumers Energy plans shut down by 2032. Its four coal and two natural gas burners can produce up to 1,946.3 megawatts regardless of wind or weather.