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Legislature approves road funding bills

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published November 5, 2015

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METRO DETROIT — After months of tussling with partisan plans for fixing the state’s troubled roads, Michigan lawmakers moved swiftly on Election Day to approve a package of bills that supporters claim will raise $1.2 billion annually for repairs.

Proponents of the plan, which cleared the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives on Nov. 3, mostly along party lines, say it will fund repairs through $600 million in increased fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, tempered with tax credits and $600 million in unspecified cuts to the state’s general fund.

Days after a similar package of bills stalled in the Senate after it was approved in the House, state senators approved a plan that cut the previously proposed 40 percent increase in vehicle registration fees in half. The plans that ultimately passed narrowly in the House and Senate instead will increase vehicle registration fees by 20 percent.

Additionally, the bills will raise taxes on diesel and gasoline fuels by 11.3 and 7.3 cents per gallon, respectively, plus an annual adjustment tied to the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less.

The package also includes an expansion of the Homestead Property Tax Credit beginning in 2018 and state income tax cut beginning in 2023.

State Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, issued a prepared statement Nov. 3 applauding the passage of what he called a “comprehensive roads plan.” He likened the package to a “down payment on our roads” and suggested it could become “the beginning of a discussion” about rebuilding Michigan’s roads and bridges.

“We have been talking about this for a long time; we need to act,” Knollenberg said. “We have before us a plan to inject an additional $1.2 billion into Michigan’s roads. It’s not the perfect plan. It’s not the plan I would have written. It’s not the plan any of us would have written if we had a blank piece of paper and ours was the only vote that mattered.

“But let’s consider the facts. Our general fund had not gone up since 2007, and we don’t have a pile of money lying around. This is the best, (most) doable plan,” Knollenberg said.

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, was blunt in his assessment of the plan that he said won’t generate any money for roads for two years, and then only through cuts that he said will likely come at the expense of funding for education and local government.

“There are just a lot of problems with it. They should have the courage to say where that money is going to come from,” Bieda said. “They kicked a lot of this down the road. It’s been a problem with the Legislature for years, and they’re putting things off for another group of people to deal with.

“When we’re up here, we vote on cuts. When we vote on cuts, we know what we’re voting on. We don’t just vote on this unidentified number and tell people you’re being accountable. You’re not,” Bieda said.

As of press time, the package of bills was forwarded on to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who on Nov. 3 issued a statement in support of what he called a “fiscally responsible, comprehensive transportation plan” that provides long-term tax relief and a long-term roads funding solution, backed by “new revenue.”

“This is the largest investment in Michigan roads and bridges in more than half a century, making them safer for Michiganders long into the future,” Snyder said.

“I commend my partners in the Legislature for their resolve and their willingness to compromise. These are difficult decisions. If left unaddressed, our infrastructure problems would have grown more expensive to fix, there would have been greater damage to our vehicles and, more importantly, more drivers left to face unsafe conditions,” Snyder said.

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