Michigan budget deal plows $330M into roads

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan is poised to put an extra $330 million into roads next year, boost school funding by the largest amount since 2002 and fully fund Gov. Rick Snyder’s $100 million “Marshall Plan for Talent.”

Gov. Rick Snyder earlier in 2018 signed a supplemental funding bill that plowed $175 million into road repairs.

The Snyder administration and Republican legislative leaders struck a deal on spending targets Thursday as they work to complete the 2019 budget within the next month, well before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The agreement includes a $115 million deposit into the state’s so-called “rainy day” savings fund, which would push the balance above $1 billion. Another $58 million would be dedicated to school safety initiatives and $82 million for other infrastructure projects.

The spending bumps were made possible by a projected budget surplus of roughly $500 million, identified earlier this month with income and sales tax collections exceeding expectations. Separate $56.6 billion budgets approved by the House and Senate also left some wiggle room for modifications.     

“We are excited about hundreds of millions more dollars for roads, a major investment in the Governor’s Marshall Plan for Talent, and funding for school safety initiatives,” said Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton.

The additional road funding is the second boost of its kind this year.  Snyder had initially proposed a $175 million increase for next year. But with complaints mounting amid a massive pothole season, lawmakers in March pumped that money into the current year budget to accelerate summer repairs.

“This is a decent chunk of change,” said Lance Binoniemi of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, which represents road builders. “We’re excited, and our guys are ready to get to work.”

The $175 million supplemental this year and the additional $300 million next year move the state closer towards fully implementing a 2015 road funding law that will eventually redirect $600 million a year from the state general fund, Binoniemi said.

The budget agreement maintains Snyder’s initial proposal to increase K-12 school funding by $120 to $240 per pupil. The higher amounts would go toward lower-funded districts, and the proposal would be the largest bump of its kind in 17 years.

It includes Snyder’s request for $100 million to fund his ambitious new talent plan, which the House had scaled back to $75 million. The program would be funded with a $100 million shift from the Higher Education Student Loan Authority, which has a growing balance after the state refinanced bonds.

The Marshall Plan, a reference to post-World War II efforts to rebuild Western Europe, is designed to help close the “talent gap” and prepare young people for high-paying, in-demand technology jobs that may not necessarily require a four-year university degree.

The proposal includes funding to provide scholarships to low-income students seeking a degree in a high-demand field, new collaborations between schools and businesses, equipment purchases and school “career navigators.”

Negotiating budget targets “went pretty smoothly,” said Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for House Republicans and Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt. “That’s because the House, Senate and the administration all walked into the room with similar priorities.”

House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said he is glad to see majority Republicans put more money into roads but said the funding is further evidence the 2015 roads law “was a failure.” The $1.2 million plan included gas tax and registration fee increases that have already been implemented.

“Michiganders deserve long-term solutions, not piecemeal proposals to patch a couple potholes,” Singh said in a statement. “Enough is enough. Michiganders deserve better."

The GOP budget agreement was announced the same day Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon began towing a Chevy Malibu across the state with price tags affixed to highlight repair costs associated with deteriorating roads.