Now that the Medicaid expansion bill has passed and is ready for approval from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the Michigan state House of Representatives has turned its focus to a litany of other issues, including education and transportation.

On Tuesday, the House began its first full legislative week following the summer break. With the budget for fiscal year 2014 set to take effect on Oct. 1, the body will have to decide quickly on how to proceed with the K-12 Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which has already been adopted in 45 states. The standards were drafted by the National Federation of Governors.

The Michigan legislature formally adopted the standards in 2010, but implementation has yet to occur. In the spring, the House passed a budget amendment sponsored by state Rep. Tom McMillin (R–Rochester Hills) that withheld funding to the Michigan Department of Education for the purpose of applying the standards.

“The amendment went in because people wanted the opportunity to study it further, so in order to get enough votes to pass a budget, we hit the stop button (on Common Core),” said House speaker pro tempore John Walsh (R–Livonia), who supports adoption of the standards.

House minority leader Tim Greimel (D–Auburn Hills) expressed concern that the amendment could delay important decisions for school districts statewide, such as what textbooks to buy and how to proceed with the curriculum.

Despite this potential roadblock, bipartisan support remains for the standards as well as optimism that the amendment will be reversed before the budget deadline. Greimel and Walsh believe a resolution to move forward with the standards will be passed this month.

Walsh, the second-ranking House Republican, said opponents of the Common Core fear it might create some sort of formalized national curriculum imposed by the federal government. He said he is confident that, as members learn more about the standards, their fears will be dispelled and they can move forward with the bill, which is expected to come out of committee and onto the House floor either this week or next.

The condition of the state’s roads is another issue that legislative leaders and Snyder hope to resolve before the budget deadline. Despite broad support for fixing roads among both legislators and citizens, there has been little consensus over how such a measure would be paid for.

According to Walsh, the House was able to allocate more funds for road repair in the upcoming fiscal year due to an unexpected revenue increase. However, the increase is not substantial enough to fund future projects.

Walsh said trying to find new revenue streams to cover what he believes is “billion-dollar-a-year under-spending” on the state’s part for roads is very difficult.

“It’s not just a Republican or Democratic issue,” Walsh said. “Our citizens are tax-weary, and we’ve got to come up with a proposal that makes them feel comfortable that the money will go to (improving) roads and nothing else and won’t come at the cost of education.”

If the legislature were to raise taxes in order to pay for road improvement, Walsh said one circulating suggestion is to remove the state’s sales tax on gas, since that revenue does not go towards roads. Gas-tax revenue, however, is allocated to the state’s education budget, and any dramatic reduction there would be met with widespread opposition.

While Greimel is pleased with the bipartisan approach to both the Common Core and road improvement issues, he and House Democrats would still like to see more increases in higher-education spending and would like to fight for more progressive tax policies for the middle class and working poor. As the $49.5-billion budget for fiscal year 2014 currently stands, K-12 education will see a 3-percent increase in funding. However, Greimel said he’s not confident that such measures will pass while his party is in the minority.

Walsh acknowledged that while the parties do hold very different views in areas such as labor, spending and civil liberties, the House does operate on a very bipartisan basis — he approximates that over 90 percent of the bills that come out of the legislature pass in a bipartisan fashion.

“By and large and at a great rate, much of our work is done on a bipartisan basis,” he said. “People just don’t talk about it.”

Meanwhile, one issue that neither leader mentioned was the bankruptcy and pension crisis in Detroit. Walsh said the House is letting the situation play out at the municipal level in bankruptcy court. When judge comes closer to rendering a an opinion, there will be some level of activity by the House, he said, noting that any action the legislature could take now would be premature.

“There’s nothing for the legislature under our Constitution to do at the present time,” he said. “We’d be out in front of (emergency financial manager) Kevyn Orr, and the governor and for that matter the bankruptcy court if we began trying to legislate some solution to the issue.”

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