House summer plans including watching Senate’s move on road funding

LANSING — With the state House on summer break, the answer to Michigan’s roads funding problem will spend the summer in the Senate.

Business groups and lobbyists working on behalf of the roads industry have offered recommendations to Republican Senate leaders, who are meeting behind closed doors to work out their version of a plan to fix the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and his spokeswoman, Amber McCann, did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

It’s unclear when the Senate GOP caucus will introduce its proposal, or whether it plans to take up any of the 12 bills passed by the House this month. But McCann said in a June 11 Detroit Free Press report she doesn’t believe the chamber will vote on any bills until its own plan is ready.

A group led by Meekhof, R-West Olive, and other Republican senators is exploring cuts to the state’s existing budget, diverting other revenue and generating new money as part of its plan to come up with at least $1.2 billion needed annually to repair the state’s roads.

The House package, introduced by Republican lawmakers, would raise more than $1 billion by 2019 through mostly existing revenue and expected future revenue growth that would be set aside for roads.

The House plan would raise the diesel tax to match the 19-cent tax on regular fuel and charge user fees to drivers of hybrid and electric vehicles. Its more controversial pieces would divert money away from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and end an income tax credit for the working poor.

The House recessed after session wrapped last week, despite the urging of some business leaders and lawmakers to postpone vacations until a final roads funding deal was reached.

The chamber has added two session days each in July and August — for a total of six — and can add more if needed, said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter. But he said the House can’t do much until the Senate returns with its plan.

The bills, D’Assandro said, are thoughtful and address Cotter’s priorities, starting with using existing revenue before asking taxpayers for more money.

But not everyone agrees.

“It was symbolic,” said Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing. “There are so many different pieces of that package that are dead on arrival with the Senate or dead on arrival with the governor that we know that package will not be the package that is approved when all is said and done.”

Singh said he won’t support any roads funding deal that doesn’t include a long-term, dedicated revenue source. His preference would be a combination of user fees or gas tax increases.

Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, has said he would be open to considering a fuel tax increase as part of a final package, but will not be the one to introduce it.

Rather than vote out bills in order to leave for vacation, Singh said, House leaders should have gone straight into negotiations with Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate leaders on a joint package they could have presented this summer.

“Why go through the theatrics of doing a House plan and then a Senate plan and then eventually getting the quadrant together with the governor to hash out the real plan?” Singh said.

“We know all of the facts, so let’s just get down to final negotiations.”

D’Assandro said Cotter will be in Lansing all summer and a roads deal is “our first priority.”
“We’re not really going to get a lot done on road funding until they come out with a plan,” D’Assandro said of the Senate. “It’d look great for PR (to stay in town), but we’re committed to getting it done.”

New revenue?

Some lobbyists, including the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, are urging the Senate to include new revenue as part of its proposal.

Michigan’s flat 19-cent fuel tax hasn’t increased since 1997. A combination of higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees could help the state come up with a chunk of revenue dedicated solely to roads, said Lance Binoniemi, MITA’s vice president of government affairs.

Voters soundly defeated a statewide ballot issue to pay for road repairs last month in part because it included a sales tax increase and funding for areas besides just roads, including schools and local governments.

“If they want to increase the gas tax in one fell swoop, the industry can handle that,” Binoniemi said. “If they think a gradual increase is more important, then eventually we’ll get to that goal and we’ll be comfortable with that, as well.”

Both he and Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the nonprofit business advocacy group Business Leaders for Michigan, caution against transferring existing revenue to roads because of the potential for cuts elsewhere.

Using money from the state’s general fund and the MEDC, as the House proposed, “adversely impacts other critical priorities that help us grow our economy,” Chesney said. That includes funding for job training and economic development.

“As we’re making gains, this is not the time to pull back on those things that help us,” she said. “Other states aren’t standing still, and for us to be a competitive state, we need to continue to invest in those areas.”

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Sun, 06/21/2015 - 5:51pm
The game playing and silliness just goes on and on......
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 7:18am
The practice of each Chamber setting its priorites before negotiating is fairly standard, and a fairly good one. Budgeting is about setting priorities, not just raising taxes. The Senators understand the urgency and the challenge. Let them do their work.
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 7:23am
If they were really on top of it the situation would have been resolved long ago, this nonsense has dragged on too long.
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 8:57am
New revenue needs to be tied directly to fuel consumption and mass of the vehicle - 1) Vehicle registration fee should be tied directly to vehicle mass and fuel consumption; hybrid/electric vehicles will still have to pay, but a smaller fee (because these vehicles usually have less mass). You want a 4.5K lbs SUV? That's fine, you'll be pay for it during registration. 2) Remove portion of current fuel tax that goes to schools - school funding should derived from the general fund/lotto. Fuel has nothing to do with schools. Make the state legislature architect the general budget to have this money be accounted for in the yearly budget 3) Increase fees for semi-trailers to fall in line with the surrounding states.
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 9:47am
And reduce max weight of trucks to be inline with neighboring states. With close axle spacing that is currently allowed, the argument that load on the road is less is only partially true. It would be true if axles were spaced 10 feet apart, but today they are 4 1/2 feet apart.
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 10:23am
I respectfully take exception with some premises. 1) Vehicle registration fees should have nothing to do with what it is. I believe the current charge is by value and that has some merit. It is a necessity of life today to have a vehicle/transportation when needed. However, there are very many who drive few miles annually. The majority drive many, many miles annually. Those who use the roads the most, create the greatest need could pay more; a per mile driven cost. However, a good road benefits all. If a driver uses the roads a lot, no matter the type, kind, weight, value, shape of method of locomotion, they are all equal. It is the miles driven that has the greatest impact on roads wear and tear, congestion and accidents. There should be complete freedom to drive whatever one wants and the number of miles. Like everything else in life there is always a cost that can be attributed to usage. A driver going 25K or more per year (quite common) will not have that vehicle for 10 years as the usage is limited. They pay for a new one from using the old one up. Same for roads and bridges. 2) I agree completely and support fully the premise that road use tax should NOT go to schools funding. It is robbing one to support another. Each item taxed should stand alone for the support of the item being taxed for it's support. 3) I would suggest that when travels, they look at the state the trailer plate is from. I defy one to find a few that are Michigan already. Other states trailer fees are less so smart business plates them there; not Michigan. I can't remember ever seeing a trailer plate from Michigan. The cost is on the tractor/truck that connects and pulls it.
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 10:35am
Nero fiddles while Rome burns. ANOTHER construction season wasted, with no end in sight If the cowards in Lansing can't handled the heat, at least put a proposal on the ballot that says: "Raise the gas tax; yes or no" Or are they too afraid to even vote on that?
George McGrath
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 2:29pm
Amen. This is ridiculous! Raise the gas tax!
Ned S Curtis
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 1:08pm
Bridge: Please stay on this all summer! Especially the secret Senate committee proceedings! We need to protect the tax credit for the working poor (EITC).
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 2:28pm
I am so tired of this administrations willingness to increase taxes for the middle class and working poor while letting businesses and the wealthy off the hook . Businesses in Michigan have already received two tax breaks cutting billions in revenue to the state budget . I have yet to see an increase in jobs or wages in Michigan resulting from this tax give away to business and the tax take away from retirees and working families as well as the working poor . Infrastructure should be funded more heavily by Michigan's businesses who demand better roads for the shipping their business demands . IF there are any increased costs to Michigan's taxpayers for roads it had better include funding for local roads as well and not through extra local township and county referendum funds . Snyder talks of pay for use but only in the context of individual drivers not businesses and their tons of product being shipped on Michigan's roads .
Mon, 06/22/2015 - 5:13pm
Word on the street is that the Michigan Senate (along with Gov. Snyder) isn't too happy with the idea of cutting/eliminating the MEDC, so a tax hike is in the Senate's plan. But given the fact that Michigan Voters took that idea to the woodshed by over a 4-1 margin back in May, the Senate is struggling with a way to accomplish this (and remained employed for those who aren't termed out).
Tue, 06/23/2015 - 9:23am
Cotter doesn't want to pen a tax increase, unless its on the 40% of Michigan families eligible for the EIC, or the 600 million in new taxes on internet sales, or the extra tax on vehicle owners not using full fossil fuels. Take the sales tax off fuel. Raise the tax 20 cents. Put the road tax for the roads. And fix the roads.
Charlie Veneros
Sun, 06/28/2015 - 8:07am
If the House and the Senate were smart to go right back to the voters with the same proposal as before less all the baggage that was tack on the road bill. I'm in local goverment and we would have voted for that bill if they would have not added all those other bills at the end. Just raise the sales tax 1 percent for roads only..........................