VP Mike Pence speaks on Mackinac Island. Allison Schuster | Col­legian

Repub­lican Party leaders from across the nation gathered on Mackinac Island the weekend of Sept. 20 to 22 for the Biennial Repub­lican National Lead­ership Con­ference, where they dis­cussed problems and solu­tions to national and state issues.

Local politi­cians — including Hillsdale’s United States House Rep. Tim Walberg, of the Seventh Dis­trict, and Michigan House Rep. Eric Leutheuser  — con­tributed to the dis­cussion at the national level but focused on solving problems in Michigan. 

The main topic of dis­cussion included the state budget pro­posal, which will affect spending for roads. 

Leutheuser described con­ver­sa­tions in Lansing right now as “inter­esting,” explaining what he said is a long process as the house tries to pass a budget. 

“When there’s a Repub­lican exec­utive, we want a really robust exec­utive,” Leutheuser. “And when there’s not a Repub­lican exec­utive, we don’t like to have a robust exec­utive.” 

The house is in its third budget pro­posal process, he said. Each house and the exec­utive make their budget rec­om­men­da­tions and then get together to figure out the best pro­posal. 

Gov. Whitmer’s original pro­posal included a 45-cent gas tax that would help fund the $900 million of road con­struction projects. The money from the tax, however, wouldn’t solely fund the roads. It would create a $2.5 billion increase in state spending, with the majority of funds going toward other projects. 

This, Leutheuser said, was a non-starter for budget nego­ti­a­tions. Whitmer made that pro­posal at the beginning of the summer, and it has been a long summer of nego­ti­a­tions. Some met with Whitmer to nego­tiate, but she ulti­mately rejected a number of the house’s pro­posals. 

The fiscal year for Michigan ends on Sept. 30, making this crunchtime for Michigan leg­is­lators to agree on a budget. If not, the con­se­quences could lead to a gov­ernment shutdown, layoffs for 48,000 people, and problems for schools.

“If you’re a school dis­trict, a com­munity looking at revenue sharing dollars, any number of things, we have to have this done by Sept. 30 to avoid dominos falling,” Leutheuser said. 

During the nego­ti­ating process, house rep­re­sen­ta­tives said they would create a sep­arate pro­posal if they couldn’t agree with Whitmer, and that is exactly what they did. 

For a long time, Leutheuser said, there was no general spending used to fund the roads. But he said he thought it was time that changed. 

“Roads are either a pri­ority or they’re not, and many people think they are,” he said. 

The house repub­licans also allo­cated more dis­cre­tionary spending from the general fund in their pro­posal, a decision Whitmer said was a bad idea. The repub­licans once again sep­a­rated from her budget rec­om­men­da­tions. 

Michigan’s 97th Dis­trict House Rep. Jason Went­worth agreed that it’s good to see lead­ership in the house and senate proposing a budget that excludes Whitmer’s gas tax. 

The house recently passed the Republican’s pro­posal that includes increased spending for edu­cation. Leutheuser said $15 billion — a huge part of their budget — goes toward the School Aid Fund 2019 – 2020. This fund will sig­nif­i­cantly increase special edu­cation and edu­cation for eco­nom­i­cally-dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents. 

“That’s a big chunk into edu­cation,” he said.

Instead of nego­ti­ating with the gov­ernor, Leutheuser joined with his col­leagues in the house and passed the bill to allocate increased spending toward the school aid fund with 91 votes in a house of only 110 total rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Both house Repub­licans and Democrats passed it. 

A big part of under­standing the role of the dif­ferent Michigan branches in budget pro­posals goes back to a basic under­standing of the balance of powers, Leutheuser said. This budget pro­posal process makes sense as the leg­islative branch is taking the lead on crafting leg­is­lation. 

It is now Whitmer’s move, as the exec­utive, to com­plete the process and either sign it or not. Leutheuser said he thinks she will sign it. 

Went­worth said the pro­posed gas tax would cause harmful con­se­quences if passed. 

“When we talk about the big number, if we put that money in the system at once, it will create a system of increased cost,” he said. “The price of asphalt, the price of gravel will increase dra­mat­i­cally and that will hurt the progress in our state.”

Such increased spending, he said, would ulti­mately hurt the roads. 

Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence also gave a speech at the con­ference, in which he high­lighted Michigan’s role in the upcoming election. He thanked law­makers for their hard work, specif­i­cally com­mending them for their work on the budget pro­posal. 

Michigan is a key bat­tle­ground state, as proven in the last election when the state voted in favor of the pres­ident, and Pence excited those at the con­ference by remarking on the upcoming 2020 election. 

“It’s not enough to win the next election,” he said. “We have to win the next gen­er­ation with your ener­getic work here in Michigan every day between now and election day.”