SEMCOG pushes for more revenue to fix Michigan’s roads
Detroit — Members of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments urged the Legislature on Thursday to move ahead and approve a gas tax increase to generate more revenue for the state’s crumbling roads.
SEMCOG presented a resolution that supported a Senate-passed plan and opposed a House effort because it fails “to generate rough revenue to reverse the deterioration of our roads.”
At a meeting Thursday morning, SEMCOG officials — along with representatives from local governments and road commissions — criticized the House bills because they would “divert a significant existing revenue stream from public schools and divert significant revenues from local governments.”
House Bill 6082 calls for the additional sales tax revenue to be split three ways for road repairs: 39 percent to the Michigan Department of Transportation, 39 percent to county road commissions and 22 percent to cities and villages.
“Michigan is standing on the precipice of a historic opportunity,” SEMCOG executive director Kathleen Lomako said. “We see three potential outcomes: Our Legislature could fail to act, which means more crumbling roads and bridges, inadequate transit and unsafe winter roads.
“We could follow the direction of the House: Fund roads by jeopardizing the future or our schools, transit and local government services. This is not an acceptable solution. Or, our leaders can follow the direction set by the governor and the Senate: Fix the roads, support transit, protect our schools and local government services.”
That statement comes as legislative leaders attempt to hash out a deal to generate $1.2 billion in additional money for road repairs in a conference committee — and extending the sales tax to some services is a possible option.
The conference committee is composed of three senators and three representatives, with majority Republicans controlling four of the seats. If the panel can get two votes from members of the Senate and House, their reported legislation would be advanced to the floors of both chambers for a vote, potentially next week during the final three days of the lame-duck session.
According to SEMCOG, the Senate bill:
■Provides $1.5 billion after four years phase in and residents will see an improved transportation system in two to three years.
■Eliminates fuel tax and creates tax on wholesale price of fuel, which is phased in and fully funded after four years.
■Funds public transit through an existing formula.
■Provides first state increase in funding of public transit since 1987.
According to SEMCOG, the House bill:
■Raises $1.4 billion after eight years.
■Directs funding to maintenance rather than reconstruction. No new funding for public transit.
■Eliminates the fuel tax and creates a tax on the wholesale price of fuel. Legislation also eliminates the 6 percent sales tax on fuel, resulting in revenue losses to public schools and local governments.
SEMCOG recently released the results of its 2014 road evaluations, which concluded the metro area saw a staggering jump in the total miles of roads that should be repaired by completely rebuilding them from the soil on up. The study found that 1,900 miles of major roadways needed to be reconstructed, a jump of 500 miles compared to two years ago.
Another 1,900 miles are in need of preventive maintenance to keep them from slipping into poor condition. Only 650 miles of roadway in the metro area are considered to be in good condition, according to the SEMCOG evaluation.
On Thursday, the conference broke into laughter when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan began his remarks with references to the city no longer being in a state of bankruptcy.
“I greatly appreciate not having to ask Kevyn Orr for permission to be here,” Duggan said. “We put Kevyn on a plane, and it was just like sending your kid off to college.”
Duggan said he supported Gov. Rick Snyder as well as the Senate bill on how to raise revenues for Michigan roads.
“All of us here are behind the governor,” Duggan said. “We lost power to a number of buildings here in Detroit last week due to failing infrastructure. Well, the same thing is happening to our roads.”
Duggan was followed by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel who said the state “has a tremendous need for road funding.”
“There is a very limited amount of funding to do what needs to be done,” Hackel said.
“The Senate has a great plan. It raises funds but it doesn’t take away from local governments or the schools. We put the world on wheels but now people are embarrassed to put their wheels on our roads.”
Outgoing Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said the state can no longer afford to “kick the can down the road.”
“With good roads, you’re much more attractive for economic development,” Ficano said. “The time to act is now.”
Washington Township Supervisor Dan O’Leary came straight to the point when he spoke in support of the Senate bills.
“I’m a little angry because I just had to pay $1,700 for repairs to my truck’s suspension,” O’Leary said. “That’s one thing people don’t talk about: the hidden tax that comes with poor roads.”
The last time the gasoline tax was raised was in 1997 when the Legislature raised it from 15 to 19 cents per gallon. Over the past decade gas revenues have gone into a steep decline due to motorists driving less with more fuel efficient vehicles.
At the same time the cost of concrete, asphalt, road salt, fuel, insurance and repairs have continued to rise.