Senate road funding plan unveiling expected Thursday

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing – — The state Senate likely will launch another effort Thursday to increase Michigan’s annual spending on road repairs, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Wednesday, confirming that Gov. Rick Snyder’s top post-re-election priority will receive attention.

Richardville, R-Monroe, didn’t meet with members of the press after Wednesday’s Senate session, but press secretary Amber McCann said he intends to get a roads funding package introduced before lawmakers start their traditional two-week November recess. Snyder wants lawmakers to find a way to boost the state’s road repair budget — currently somewhere between $1 billion and $1.5 billion a year — by at least another $1.2 billion annually.

Estimates of how much added money the state needs each year to fix roads faster than they’re deteriorating range upward past $2 billion a year.

Republicans caucused twice behind closed doors Wednesday, discussing road funding and other issues. While there’s no specific combination of proposals before them, the new package probably will contain key elements of a road-funding scheme that failed to win Senate approval last spring, McCann said.

The House last spring passed a plan adding about $450 million to the road repair kitty, mostly by redirecting state revenues. Richardville and other Senate leaders proposed a $1.2 billion package tied to increases in either the fuel tax or sales tax.

The plan included switching from a cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to a percentage-based levy that is indexed with the price of fuel and imposing new warranty requirements on road builders.

The Senate couldn’t agree on any repair funding plan before summer recess.

To break the deadlock, Snyder said last week he would be open to letting state voters decide in a special election whether they want to pay more at the pump and in fees at the Secretary of State’s office or pay more on all retail purchases subject to the 6 percent sales tax.

Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley is threatening to fund a petition drive for a direct citizen vote on a road funding plan if lawmakers fail to act this year. Businesses leaders who make up the chamber’s membership have authorized the action, if necessary, he says.

The chamber’s proposal likely would dedicate all of the revenue from Michigan’s sales tax on fuel to road repairs. Much of the state’s 6 percent sales tax, including what’s collected from motorists at the pump, is dedicated to school funding and revenue-sharing for local governments.