Road funding bill on hold until September

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan House adjourned late Wednesday for another three-week summer recess after failing to reach a deal on generating an extra $1.2 billion annually for the state’s crumbling roads.

House members had returned to Lansing on Tuesday after a month-long recess as leaders hoped to strike a deal on road funding in the wake of voter defeat of a sales tax increase in May.

But after being in session for more than nine hours, Republican leaders called off negotiations and adjourned until Sept. 9.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said negotiations were “a bit derailed” by lawmakers trying to add items to the package not related to roads.

“My focus has been to pass a plan that’s been all about the roads and to keep the focus on the roads,” Cotter said. “... I think there’s still a path to a solution, but it’s not going to be this week.”

Democrats in the minority were trying to extract assurances from Republican leaders that they would not approve a voter-initiated repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law. Separately, some labor unions are pursuing a ballot initiative for November 2016 to increase the corporate income tax rate.

Rep. Brian Banks, D-Harper Woods, proposed a resolution in which both sides would back off ballot initiatives in exchange for Democratic votes for tax increases to fund a road funding plan.

“If they’re serious about fixing the roads, we’ve given them numerous offers,” Banks said.

The construction industry is collecting voter signatures to put a repeal before the Legislature — potentially later this year — to repeal the prevailing wage law and bypass Gov. Rick Snyder’s likely veto of the controversial legislation. The law forces companies to pay the higher or union-scale wage on government construction projects in a region.

“We want to make sure that prevailing wage is addressed so that labor can be comfortable and neutral as it relates to moving ahead,” Banks said.

The head of the Detroit House Caucus said he’s hoping to include labor unions and contractors pushing for the end of repealing wage on government buildings in the negotiations over a bipartisan road funding deal.

“You can bring everyone to the table to have some conversations and get to a place where we could possibly kill the ballot proposal,” Banks told reporters.

Lawmakers appeared to be trying fashion a package consisting of $600 million in new revenue and $600 million in existing revenue from the general fund. But details on the closed-door negotiations were murky Wednesday night after the House remained in a legislative holding pattern.

Two Metro Detroit lawmakers said they’re trying to dedicate as much new money to counties and municipalities as possible and bypass a half-century-old funding formula and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“A lot of people are rallying around that,” said Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica. “We’re close.”

Republican lawmakers concede they may need Democratic votes to pass $600 million in tax and fee hikes, potentially through a five-cent increase in the 19-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, remained opposed Wednesday to raising taxes and was among a bloc of conservative Republicans who want to cut other parts of the state’s $10 billion general fund to pay for priority road repairs.

“We have an urgent need to start doing something,” Lucido said. “And it’s going to get worse this winter.”

Rep. Marilyn Lane, a Fraser Democrat who is on the conference committee, was pushing a plan to have a vehicle registration fee increase entirely dedicated to individual communities. Under a hypothetical $24 increase per passenger vehicle, Macomb County and its communities would receive $16.78 million in new road money annually, Lane said.

“That’s the beauty of it — take the money out of the hands of state government and MDOT and give it to the locals,” Lane told The Detroit News.

Lane and other lawmakers from Metro Detroit complain that Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties are “donor counties” to rural areas of the state that get more money per resident for roads through the existing formula than the state’s most populous areas do.

“I don’t know why we make it so gosh darn difficult,” Lane said of the funding formula.

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