House passes roads bill ‘out of the blue’

Controversial plan would shift $600 million from general fund, raise gas taxes and fees

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 23, 2015

WARREN — Supporters called it a “new” $1.2 billion plan to secure funding for Michigan’s troubled roads, but opponents say it’s the equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

During an evening session on Oct. 21, the Michigan House of Representatives, through a package of bills approved by votes that played out nearly entirely along party lines, passed a road funding solution that will shift $600 million from the state’s general fund, while requiring drivers to pay more for gas and vehicle registration fees in order to muster an additional $600 million. 

Proponents say it also provides $200 million in relief for homeowners and renters through increased property tax credits, and a reduction in state income taxes tied to “normal statewide inflation increases over time.” 

State Rep. Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills, announced his support for the plan in comments distributed by Michigan House Republicans.

“Soon enough, our state will be facing cold weather, sleet, snow and ice,” Webber said. “When the seasonal wear and tear on our roads becomes more apparent in the spring, we need construction crews ready to begin the recovery process.

“We’re taking steps to ensure that our friends and neighbors don’t have to deal with more potholes and roads in disarray. We can’t afford it, and we won’t let it happen,” Webber said.

State Rep. Derek Miller, D-Warren, said the measures to address the roads arrived back on the House agenda “out of the blue” late on Oct. 21, after other efforts previously stalled when lawmakers failed to reach a consensus.

“All of a sudden, they drop this bomb on us, that they were going to try to get roads resolved last night (Oct. 21),” Miller said last week. “It was very frustrating.”

Miller said he opposed the plan because it diverts $600 million away from the general fund, and that he’s concerned how that unspecified reallocation could affect funding for schools and universities, first responders, and health and human services over time.

He also said the proposed 40 percent increase in the cost of vehicle registration fees would unfairly burden drivers in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties who already pay the most collectively but must suffer through the worst commercial traffic, wear and tear on the roads, and don’t enjoy an appropriate share of funding for repairs.

“It’s unsustainable and it’s irresponsible,” Miller said. “How do we just say we’re going to take $600 million from the general fund and not say where it’s coming from?”

The roads plan that cleared the Michigan House on Oct. 21 would have to be approved by the state Senate and Gov. Rick Snyder before it would be implemented. If ultimately passed, it wouldn’t fully take effect until 2021.

Miller said he plans to introduce an alternative measure, similar to a bill he previously co-sponsored with state Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, that would use interest from the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association fund for an initial three-year period to pay for road repairs where the most critical needs exist. The plan would be re-evaluated for viability and stability after three years.

He also said he plans to introduce a bill requiring highway lanes most heavily used for truck traffic to be built to higher life span standards, and another that would support a cement study dedicated to exploring the potential use of cutting-edge materials to construct more durable roads.

In May, 80 percent of Michigan voters opposed a proposed plan to hike the state’s sales/use tax a penny on the dollar to fund road repairs.