Michigan lawmakers work toward agreement on road plan
Lansing — Michigan lawmakers hope to hash out a long-sought road funding deal Wednesday as political pressure mounts for Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature to generate $1.2 billion more annually for road repairs following a summer-long stalemate.
The House on Tuesday rejected three Senate-passed bills related to fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, sending the legislation to a conference committee that plans to meet Wednesday, said Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant.
“I think we’re making progress on a lot of fronts, but the goal is still to pass a solution yet this week,” Cotter said Tuesday.
Cotter appointed himself, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka of Stevensville and Democratic Rep. Marilyn Lane of Fraser to the joint House-Senate conference committee.
Republican Sens. Goeff Hansen of Hart and Mike Shirkey of Clark Lake and Democratic Sen. Morris Hood of Detroit will represent the Senate on the conference committee, said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans.
Snyder and legislative leaders restarted negotiations on generating another $1.2 billion annually for road repairs over whether to raise taxes or redirect existing state spending to crumbling highways and bridges.
Cotter said there was no deal yet on how much new revenue would be included in the package.
“It’s not completely hammered out yet, but that is the biggest unknown yet at this point,” the speaker said.
Rep. Peter Pettalia, a Presque Isle Republican who has been deeply involved in road funding negotiations, said a five-cent increase in the 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax is being closely discussed. It would be paired with a nine-cent increase in the 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax to make both fuel taxes equal, Pettalia said.
Snyder met with the Legislature’s two Republican majority and two Democratic minority leaders for a mid-day gathering inside his Capitol office.
“There’s positive progress, which I would define as movement toward a solution, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Snyder said Tuesday.
Lawmakers have been deeply divided over whether to attempt to raise taxes on fuel and vehicle registrations following a stinging rejection by voters of the Proposal 1 sales tax increase in May.
“This solution doesn’t particularly have an R or a D next to it,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. “It affects all of the people of the state of Michigan and we’re doing our best as leaders to try to make that happen.”
Some lawmakers have floated the idea of increasing fuel taxes $600 million and diverting $600 million in existing spending from other departments to the transportation budget.
Snyder has previously expressed concern about diverting more general fund revenue to roads. The state’s general fund already contains about $140 million in ongoing spending to help the state meet its match for federal highway funds.
The Republican governor refused to say what’s the highest amount of existing spending that he would find acceptable.
But House Democrats are opposed to cutting other areas of the state’s $10 billion general fund budget to fill potholes, said Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.
“We’re not going to go along with any Band-Aid approach that is not a permanent, sustainable, responsible solution to fix the roads,” Greimel told reporters.
After meeting with the governor mid-day, Meekhof said legislative leaders and Snyder are still seeking a road funding package that would generate $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion more a year.
“That’s what it’s going to take to get our roads back to … 80 percent good,” Meekhof said.
House Republicans have not appeared eager to adopt a Senate GOP plan for a 15-cent gas tax increase that could make Michigan’s fuel taxes the second highest in the country by 2017.
And House Democrats have continued to hint they want some form of tax relief for low-income residents in exchange for votes for a hike in the state’s taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
The Associated Press contributed.