TF2 recommendation Double the money

November 14, 2008
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Transportation needs across Michigan are substantial, and they are real, according to the Transportation Funding Task Force. The current total investment across all modes of transportation in this state is slightly more than $3.5 billion, but it needs to be twice that, the task force said in the report it submitted to Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature Monday.

After more than 10 months of intense review and deliberation on the adequacy of surface transportation, the aeronautics service provision and transportation funding in Michigan, the task force recommended that the state at least double its current annual investment in the transportation system to thwart an impending shortfall, and that goes for everything — roadways, bridges, public transit and aviation.

Closing that funding gap will require multiple changes to the user-fee structure, said Richard Studley, task force co-chair and president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. In its report, the task force laid out a buffet of policy alternatives and alternative funding sources for the governor and legislature to consider.

“Business people tend to be fairly conservative, and they understand the difference between spending and investing,” Studley said. “They get it: They know that this is about jobs and economic development and keeping our state competitive. I think you’ll see the business community weigh in positively on the side of transportation funding.”

There is, however, no assurance that Michigan’s governor and legislature will act on the recommendations laid out in the Transportation Funding Task Force report, but there is a high level of tenacity among task force members to see funding shored up.

“I can tell you that we have every assurance that everybody here and everybody on the task force is deadly serious about it,” said task force member Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid transit system and current chair of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “What the governor and legislature does, we’re not speculating: We’re only telling them what we think is important. We’re not going to rest easy until the things we’ve talked about start being worked on.” 

The task force presented details of its report at news conferences in Grand Rapids, Southfield and Lansing Monday.

“We’re advocating a comprehensive range of solutions for legislative action either in November or December in the lame duck session or early next year in the next legislative session,” Studley said.

This is the last year Michigan will have enough state and local matching funds to claim all federal transportation funding available to it, the report pointed out. By 2010 that will be true of all modes of transportation across all jurisdictions. If no action is taken, Michigan stands to lose up to $1 billion in federal funds each year, and that will put more than 1,700 jobs at risk, according to the task force.

The task force met 10 times in seven locations throughout the state, wrapping up its series of meetings in late October. Since March, with the assistance of CAC, the task force has looked at more than 100 ways to raise revenue for all modes of transportation in the state and made recommendations for immediate, short-term and long-term options (see boxed information on page 14). The plan excludes a general tax increase and doesn’t take any money away from education, welfare or corrections, noted Michael Nystrom, a member of the task force and vice president of government and public relations for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.

“Next year may be the last year where the miles of good roads and the number of good bridges continue to increase, and then we’ll start sliding backwards,” Studley said. “As many of you know, it costs less to maintain a road in good condition than it does to have to repair or replace a road that has fallen into poor condition.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature appointed the bi-partisan task force in March, along with a larger, bi-partisan Citizen Advisory Committee to prepare preliminary reports for the task force’s review. Kent County Aeronautics Director James Koslosky served on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee and represented the Michigan Association of Airport Executives.

“We’re all in this together,” Varga said. “The entire state needs a good transportation system to help grow business and create jobs in Michigan and to be competitive globally.”

Nystrom said the state’s transportation system has been chronically underfunded for decades.

“We’ve had one 4-cent increase in funding since 1982,” Nystrom said. “If you tried to make all the needed repairs on your home in 1982 dollars, you wouldn’t be able to keep up with the needs that you have, nor can we in terms of our transportation investment.”

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