By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan legislators cajoled and negotiated Wednesday for an elusive $1.2 billion road-funding deal, as House Democrats whose votes are needed for a gasoline tax increase tried to head off an effort to repeal guaranteed union-scale wages on public works projects.

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A House-Senate conference committee was on standby in case an agreement was within reach, but few outward signs of progress were evident by late afternoon. The House broke for dinner and planned to return in the evening.

The Republican-led House, which is resistant to a significant fuel tax hike – unlike the GOP-controlled Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder – was in session for the second of three days this week. Rank-and-file members sat at their desks for hours while leaders talked behind closed doors, occasionally casting votes to repeal archaic laws such as cursing in front of women and children.

Democrats were still concerned that dedicating $600 million in general funds to transportation spending would hurt other budget priorities, especially because the $9.9 billion general fund could be squeezed further in coming years under the Medicaid expansion and if revenue from a health insurance tax continues to fall short. Democrats also want assurances that a business-backed petition drive to rescind the state’s 50-year-old prevailing wage law will not reach the Legislature.

“The $600 million is a huge problem from the perspective of everybody in our caucus,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said. “We are very united in joining others, including the governor’s administration, in believing that that is an unrealistically unsustainable, fiscally irresponsible approach.”

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The other half of the additional $1.2 billion for transportation infrastructure could come from a 5-cent increase in the state’s 19-cents-a-gallon gas tax and a 9-cent hike in the 15-cent diesel tax, along with higher license plate fees. Both fuel taxes would ultimately rise higher with inflation.

Snyder, a Republican, favors the law that ensures “prevailing” wages are paid on many state-financed construction projects, but conservatives are seeking to bypass his veto with initiated legislation for which they must gather hundreds of thousands of voter signatures. If signatures are submitted and legislators do not pass the measure, it would be put to a statewide vote in 2016.

Republicans, meanwhile, said an income tax cut was still in the mix as part of road-improvement discussions. The Senate voted this summer for a 15-cent gas tax increase, while also approving a bill to cut Michigan’s 4.25 percent individual income tax each year that general revenues rise by more than inflation.

“It’s still very much in consideration. It gives some people pause, especially the way it’s written. It’s a very important piece for some of the (lawmakers),” said Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, who chairs the House Tax Policy Committee.

In May, voters defeated a sales tax increase that would have triggered more money for roads, education and municipalities.

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