Legislature starts road funding maneuvers

Karen Bouffard and Chad Livengood
The Detroit News

Lansing — The House and Senate sent their competing road funding proposals to a special six-member conference committee Thursday in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement next week before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

The conference committee will be 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, the legislation would be advanced to the floors of both chambers for a yes-or-no vote. No amendments can be made to legislation crafted in conference committees.

GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger’s appointees to the committee are Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, R-Midland; Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker; and Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser.

The Senate will be represented by Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive; Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township; and Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said the conference committee will meet Monday or Tuesday.

“All things considered, I’d prefer Monday,” Richardville said, adding the committee needs as much time as possible to reach an agreement before the lame-duck sessions next Thursday.

The House and Senate plans both convert the 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax and 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax to a percentage-based tax on the wholesale price of fuel.

Both of the Republican-controlled chambers took starkly different paths from there in pursuit of $1.2 billion in new revenue for roads.

The Senate’s plan calls for setting the new wholesale tax at 9.5 percent on April 15, increasing over four years to 15.5 percent by Jan. 1, 2018.

The House’s plan would set the new gas tax rate at 7.5 percent and gradually increase it to 13.5 percent over six years while repealing the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline by 1 percentage point annually.

Groups representing public schools, cities and counties have lined up against the House plan because it does not replace the lost sales tax revenue that goes to the School Aid Fund and municipal revenue sharing.

Bolger’s plan relies on growth in the economy to ensure funding for schools and municipalities is not harmed — an aspect of the plan that has left some senators feeling uneasy.

“I really think it’s presumptuous to base your objective on six years of positive economic growth — you can’t bank on that,” said Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township. “That’s a very iffy proposition.”