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Published: Thursday, 5/8/2014

Michigan House approves $450 million more for roads, bridges; opponents say it's not enough

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan House voted today to dedicate $450 million a year more for road upkeep, which proponents called a long-overdue step while critics argued the money isn’t nearly enough to fix the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

The legislation, which heads to the Senate after solid bipartisan passage, would provide roughly a third of what Gov. Rick Snyder wants to bring roads and bridges up to par. Others think the funding increase should be $2 billion at a minimum.

“The complaints (that) it’s not good enough, it’s not enough, it’s not perfect enough have kept the Legislature from acting for too long,” said House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. “If this had been done in 1997, we wouldn’t be debating a road problem today. Michigan citizens would be driving on smoother roads.”

Most of the additional transportation funding would be diverted from the state’s general fund, which funds prisons, public universities and other programs. But the Republican-controlled House also voted 85-24 to raise revenue by converting the state’s 19-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax to one based on price while increasing the 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax to the equivalent of 19 cents.

The 6 percent tax on wholesale fuel prices then could rise with inflation but not spike higher when gas prices jump. The state Treasury Department could increase tax rates to ensure fuel tax revenues are never less than in the 2014 base year.

The legislation partly is intended to address a constant frustration — that Michigan’s gas taxes are among the highest in the nation while its per-capita transportation spending is among the lowest because the 6 percent sales tax on fuel primarily goes to schools and locals governments.

A bill approved 91-18 would keep education and revenue sharing to municipalities intact while sending $130 million per year in leftover sales tax collected at the pump to roads and bridges instead of the general fund. Another bill, also approved 91-18, would set aside a portion of the 6 percent use tax — which is applied to online and catalog purchases and hotel bills — solely for road and bridge projects.

Proponents say if Michigan had moved to a wholesale gas tax when it last raised the per-gallon tax in 1997, it would have the $1.3 billion Snyder is seeking today. Road agencies are getting less in state funding than a decade ago in part because people are driving less and with more fuel-efficient cars.

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity criticized lawmakers for basing fuel taxes on price, saying it’s doubtful that residents “support automatic yearly increases in the taxes they pay at the pump.” On the other side of the political spectrum, the Michigan League for Public Policy — an advocacy group for the poor — said the House plan would strain other spending on health care, higher education, public safety, preschool and human services.

But Snyder, a Republican whose call for bigger hikes in gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees hasn’t been embraced in the Legislature, applauded the House.

“The House package reflects a serious commitment to tackling this issue,” he said in a statement. “It continues the critical dialogue as we work together to reach the ultimate solution that includes a stable, sufficient, long-term funding source.”

Some Democrats such as Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing criticized the bills as not going far enough.

“I want to be able to support something that adds real revenue, that solves the problem — that’s not in the millions but is actually in the billions” of dollars, he said.

Other bills sent to the GOP-led Senate would raise the cost of permits for oversized and overweight trucks, double fines for overweight trucks, revise some vehicle registration fees and aim to ensure contractors are held responsible for shoddy pavement.

“While you criticize the package as not being perfect, and it’s not, it is a very good first step in getting us working on fixing Michigan roads,” said Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser.



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