In 2011, a legislative study concluded Michigan needs nearly $3 billion a year for roads; it currently spends $1.28 billion. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Lansing— Republican lawmakers say they won’t give Gov. Rick Snyder a permanent infusion of extra cash for road and bridge repairs this year even though the GOP incumbent is expected to renew his call Thursday to commit to spending more money every year on infrastructure.
In last year’s State of the State address, Snyder pushed for reforming Michigan’s fuel taxes to generate a $1.2 billion-a-year increase in the road budget, but had to settle for a one-time spending increase. Snyder will again call on the Legislature to invest in road and bridge repairs, a Snyder transportation official says.
House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, is not warming to the idea after his Republican House majority spent much of 2013 unsuccessfully studying ways to generate the money.
“I do not expect that we’ll see this year anything that is a net revenue increase from our existing activity (for roads),” Bolger said.
The House Republicans are blaming the situation on the intransigence of Democrats in striking a deal on road funding.
“If anything, it is the House Democrats and the Senate Democrats that have put the smack down on any new revenue for roads,” Bolger spokesman Ari Adler said Tuesday.
Snyder’s staff appeared to be tamping down expectations for his fourth State of the State speech and avoided saying how strong a push he’ll make for an ambitious infrastructure plan.
“Repairing our crumbling infrastructure will always be a priority,” Snyder spokesman David Murray said in a statement. “It’s also a long process. Working with our partners in the Legislature, we’ve taken some small but notable steps and made some gains.
“We continue to talk to all sides in an effort to solve the problem.”
Snyder has highlighted the situation because a 2011 bipartisan legislative study found Michigan needs nearly $3 billion a year to adequately care for roads and bridges — compared with the current $1.28 billion.
The Republican-led Senate seems more open to a limited road funding increase. Senate Appropriations chairman Roger Kahn has suggested additional money for roads to help maintain tourism, among multiple uses for a nearly $1-billion state budget surplus built up during the past three years.
The Saginaw Republican suggested spending another $115 million early this year for targeted road repair projects, not the $1-billion-plus Snyder seeks. It would be the second half of a $230-million goal lawmakers set last year to undertake specific projects they chose as priorities.
State Sen. John Pappageorge, who heads the Senate road funding subcommittee and led the effort to create the special appropriation, said he hopes the amount can be higher. He said he is creating a repair priority list for lawmakers to consider in the new budget that would take effect Oct. 1.
“I don’t know how much more we’ll have for roads — whether it will be half (the amount Snyder seeks) or another part of the way there,” said Pappageorge, R-Troy.
A year ago, Snyder passionately asked legislators to raise taxes or “user fees” to generate another $1-billion-plus each year for roads that would save money and prevent 100 highway deaths annually.
The legislative study said the state would save $1.8 billion over a 12-year span with more aggressive funding to address deteriorating roads now rather than waiting until they need costlier repairs later. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which favors the investment, estimated a larger repair budget would create 11,000 jobs.
“We can decide how long we want to argue about it, how political we want to make it, or we can just use some common sense and get it done,” Snyder said in the January 2013 speech.
Last year’s challenge to lawmakers never gained much traction.
Lawmakers did dedicate an additional $351 million in surplus tax revenue to road projects.
But about $121 million of the money went toward meeting Michigan’s annual match of federal highway spending because of a shortfall in gas tax revenue caused by more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer miles traveled by motorists.
While state government has a $971.1 million estimated surplus for the 2014-15 budget year, majority Republican lawmakers are focused on using it to finance election-year tax cuts or make another one-time appropriation for highway and bridge repairs.
Bolger and other GOP legislators recently suggested the state gradually add to the road repair fund as a rebounding economy creates more revenue from current sources. They also say the state should wring more efficiencies out of the highway construction system.
Critics say Bolger’s approach is a flawed long-term strategy because annual revenue from the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon gas tax and road conditions continue to worsen.
“How are we going to live up to that obligation of growing their way to fixing roads when every time they see a small surplus they want to give it back (to taxpayers)?” said state Rep. Vicki Barnett of Farmington Hills, Democratic vice chair of the House Tax Policy Committee.
State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said the state is dropping farther and farther behind as projects are deferred in the department’s five-year plan.
“It’s just not politically possible to do it in an election year, ... but we’re not going to stop pushing because the need does not go away,” Steudle said.