On the issues: How Michigan governor candidates plan to fix roads
Lansing— Michigan’s roads have emerged as a major issue in the gubernatorial primary campaign as candidates tout plans to fix aging infrastructure after another bruising winter pothole season.
State spending on road repairs, maintenance and construction has increased under term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed a 2015 law that raised gas taxes and registration fees. The law will eventually dedicate $1.2 million in annual funding toward roads by 2022.
But Michigan streets and freeways are still poised to continue deteriorating through at least 2025, according to projections from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council. As of 2017, nearly 50 percent of paved local roads were rated in poor condition, compared with 19 percent rated good.
Republicans and Democrats competing in the Aug. 7 primary say they'd make fixing roads a top priority, but they have very different ideas on how to do so.
Gretchen Whitmer: The East Lansing Democrat's plan to “fix the damn roads” revolves around pumping up to $3 billion a year in new spending into a state infrastructure bank that would provide secure and low-interest loans to help local governments leverage federal match dollars.
As state Senate minority leader, Whitmer supported plans to raise gas taxes or registration fees to pay for road repairs. If the Legislature is not willing to do the same, she says she would ask voters to approve a bond. Loan money could accelerate road repairs, but the state would eventually have to pay the money back, plus interest. Read Whitmer's plan >>
Bill Schuette: The Midland Republican says he would make road funding a priority in the state’s $56.8 billion budget, but he has not identified any corresponding spending cuts in other areas and has vowed not to raise taxes to fund repairs.
Schuette says he’d order a review of the Michigan Department of Transportation and how it allocates dollars. He has also pledged to devote to roads any savings from the recent repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law for construction workers, which had guaranteed union-level pay on government building projects, but usually not roads. Hear Schuette's ideas >>
Brian Calley: The Portland Republican and lieutenant governor supported Snyder's $1.2 billion roads law in 2015 but says he’d accelerate a planned phase-in by completing a full $600 million general fund allocation his first year in office rather than waiting for fiscal year 2022.
Calley also vows to continue paying down long-term transportation debt, which he says stood at $2.3 billion in 2011 but has been cut by $1 billion over the past eight years. Once debt payments are off the balance sheet, Calley says the state will have $200 million a year in extra transportation dollars to devote to roads. Read Calley's plan >>
Abdul El-Sayed: The Shelby Township Democrat wants to raise fuel taxes, tolls and registration fees on farm and log trucks to help pump $1.4 billion a year for roads and transit into a new Pure Michigan Infrastructure Bank that would also facilitate clean water and energy projects.
Those tax and fee increases would require legislative approval. El-Sayed says the infrastructure bank would help provide incentives to maintain roads rather than build new ones. The bank would provide low-risk loans, tax credits and grants to help defray upfront costs. Read El-Sayed's plan >>
Patrick Colbeck: The Canton Township Republican has proposed full elimination of the state’s personal income tax, which generates more than $7 billion in annual revenue for the state, but maintains he could fix the roads by prioritizing budget dollars and cutting costs.
Colbeck opposed the $1.2 billion road funding law in the state Senate and instead argued the state should find ways to extend road life, lower material costs and privatize some services currently performed by the Michigan Department of Transportation. Read Colbeck's plan >>
Shri Thanedar: The Ann Arbor Democrat says he would look to pay for roads, bridges, transit and infrastructure repair by asking voters to approve a bond of up to $1 billion in 2019. The state would need to repay the bond over time, along with interest.
Thanedar also wants to seek more opportunities for public-private partnerships to help fix roads and bridges. Businesses that use infrastructure “in greater proportions should shoulder a larger portion of the cost to repair it,” he says. Read Thanedar's plan >>
Jim Hines: The Saginaw Republican wants to pump an extra $1.75 billion into roads over the first two years of his administration by earmarking a larger portion of the state’s income tax.
The devoted revenue would accelerate road repairs but create a budget hole that Hines has no intention of filling. Instead, the obstetrician wants to cut the state’s 4.25 percent income tax to 3.9 percent after those first two years. Read Hines' plan >>