Governor Asks Road Budget Hike

March 14, 2003
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LANSING — Despite a struggling economy and a projected budget deficit of $1.7 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed spending $3.2 billion on roads for FY04 — 3.5 percent more than the current $3.09 billion transportation budget.

Forty percent of that money will go for work on local roads and bridges, while 30 percent is aimed at state roads and bridges. Public transportation will get 8.4 percent of those funds should the governor’s plan clear both chambers.

Still, the Michigan Road Builders Association is concerned over the amount of grants that are targeted to other state departments. According to the MRBA, these grants will come to $118.4 million for the next fiscal year — nearly the same amount as this year, but about $50 million over the FY02 total.

“The MRBA will continue working to eliminate or dramatically reduce these interdepartmental grants,” said Gary Naeyart, MRBA director of government and public relations, in a statement.

The governor is also proposing a 4-cents-per-gallon increase for the state user fee on diesel fuel. Granholm estimates the higher tax will raise $38.9 million for FY04, a move the road builders favor. Those funds will be shared by the state, counties and municipalities as outlined by Public Act 51.

“The MRBA strongly supports parity in user fees for all motorists and we will work to enact diesel parity in the legislature,” said Naeyart.

The governor’s proposed budget also transfers $13 million in drivers’ license fees that had been spent on road projects to the Michigan State Police. The money will be used to support traffic enforcement and road safety functions.

Granholm appeared before a House transportation subcommittee in Washington, D.C., last Thursday to highlight the state’s road and transit needs. The 57-member subcommittee will draft the bill that will distribute federal funds for the upcoming fiscal year.

According to the governor, state transportation revenues have remained strong during the recession. State motor fuel and vehicle registration revenues are expected to grow by 4.9 percent to more than $2.1 billion next year. But Granholm is concerned that the state gains in transportation money could be offset by cuts in the federal funding program.

President George Bush has proposed spending $29.3 billion on the nation’s roads and bridges next year, a drop of $2.5 billion from this year’s amount.

Granholm pointed out that the state has been forfeiting between $4 million and $5 million in federal highway funds annually by not complying with a federal directive to lower the state’s drunken driving threshold to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level. The current state level is 0.10 and the governor is urging lawmakers to adopt the new standard.           

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