House speaker: Let’s pump up road repair aid now

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing – Gov. Rick Snyder and House Speaker Tom Leonard agree that fixing the state’s roads should be a budget priority this year, but Leonard is pushing lawmakers to expedite more funding to repair potholes now.

Snyder is proposing $175 million in new money to repair Michigan roads in his 2019 proposal in addition to $150 million in extra income tax revenue that will be redirected for road maintenance under a 2015 law.

Leonard, a Dewitt Republican, said the Legislature needs to approve a budget bill to get potholes fixed sooner than the typical annual budget process would allow.

Leonard, who is running for Michigan attorney general, told reporters Wednesday after the governor’s budget briefing that he would like to push for approval of a supplemental road funding bill as soon as this spring to start repairing the many gaping potholes on Michigan’s roadways.

The money would be used to make repairs along state, county and local roads under a state formula.

“We’ve had a very tough winter. We’ve had quite a few thaws. Everywhere I go people want to the roads fixed,” Leonard said. “Right now, I want to start the conversation about spending this $175 million on roads and bridges sooner rather than later.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, is “open to more discussion of the topic,” said spokeswoman Amber McCann.

Snyder’s proposal to pump $325 million from the state’s general fund into road and bridge repairs would be a small portion of Snyder’s proposed $56.8 billion budget in federal and state spending.

“This funding will be put to use right away on our state highways and local roads,” said State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle in a Thursday statement. “It allows state and local road agencies to fix more roads and bridges sooner.”

Leonard said he thinks Snyder’s road funding bump will be the easiest spending increase to sell other Republican lawmakers leery of spending more money and wanting to get more tax relief to residents.

“We know that our crumbling roads and bridges don’t get better over time,” he said. “So if we can get that $175 million now … I believe that would be the way to go.”

In a Wednesday press conference, Snyder said he hopes spending a little more on roads is “the most straightforward” of his requests.

Lance Binoniemi, vice president of governmental affairs for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, praised the push for quicker road funding.

“The industry is waiting for the road package to fully get implemented and they’re ready to go,” Binoniemi said. “I think any citizen in this state can see just by driving … that the money is needed to fix the roads and bridges, and we think it’s a great idea.”