Snyder: Road funding top priority for lawmakers

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Grand Rapids — Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday he wants legislation boosting road funding to be the Legislature’s top priority during its lame duck session after the Nov. 4 election.

The Republican governor, who faces a tough re-election against Democrat Mark Schauer, has struggled to get the GOP-controlled Legislature to adopt a plan to raise at least $1.2 billion in additional annual revenue for road funding through increases in the fuel tax and vehicle registration fees.

Speaking at a business leaders conference in Grand Rapids on Monday, Snyder was asked whether solving the state’s transportation funding deficit would be a priority in his second term, should he be re-elected.

“I still consider that a priority I want to get done in the first term,” Snyder said at the West Michigan Policy Forum’s conference at the Amway Grand Hotel.

In June, the Senate adjourned for the summer after rejecting a gas tax hike and higher fees for heavy trucks that Snyder supported. Schauer has criticized the governor’s leadership on the issue, but said he’s opposed to increasing the 19 cents-per-gallon gas tax.

Snyder said Monday that the August primary and November general election caused the Legislature to put talks about road funding on hold until the lame duck session, which is scheduled to begin in late November and stretch into early December.

“It was just too difficult given that we’re in an election season for legislators to address the problem, but it needs to be done,” Snyder said.

Snyder also addressed the on-going stalemate with President Barack Obama’s administration to get the federal government to commit $250 million to construction of a new customs plaza in Detroit at the base of a new Detroit River bridge.

“The right answer is the U.S. government should step up and either pay for or rent the U.S. customs facility,” Snyder told business leaders attending the conference. “And I’m not going to give up on that.”

Canada is covering Michigan’s $550 million share of the construction of a new $2.1 billion bridge from Windsor to southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood.

In his harshest words for the Obama administration yet, Snyder suggested the federal government is mistreating one of America’s closest allies by not agreeing to pay for the customs plaza.

“To be blunt, I think it’s offensive to the country of Canada to say that we would tell them that a U.S. government facility, manned by U.S. government officials to protect the U.S. border is going to be paid for by Canada,” Snyder said. “... That’s not how you keep your greatest ally.”

But the project still faces legal and political hurdles that are being mounted by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

“We’ll continue to suffer lawsuits — that’s not going to go away,” Snyder said without mentioning Moroun or his company by name. “A lot of lobbying on a negative fashion is still going in Washington, D.C.”

Business and political leaders are gathered in Grand Rapids for a two-day policy conference attended mostly by business executives who are politically aligned with Snyder.

Ex-Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Democrat and former ambassador to Canada, reflected on the political hurdles of constructing a new bridge during a session on Michigan’s legislative term limits with former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, a Republican and Snyder’s legislative adviser.

Blanchard said inexperienced legislators, particularly Republicans, “were misled or duped” by Moroun’s company and refused to accept Canada’s money for a new publicly owned bridge. Snyder ultimately had to go around the Legislature to forge an agreement with the Canadians.

“I don’t think we would have had that if we had a knowledgeable Legislature that could withstand the pressure and perhaps even the financial support of outside interests,” Blanchard said. “I think (Snyder) misjudged the kind of pressures on the Legislature. I think he thought they were going to be as honorable in this issue as he is.”

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