Road funding to take a year’s detour
Don’t expect any movement on state funding for roads for the rest of this year and a big chunk of next year: That was the memo recently delivered to members of the Grand Valley Metro Council.
State Sen. Dave Hildebrand, R-Lowell, told board members that lawmakers know transportation is a big issue, but he said there isn’t an easy solution to come up with the $1.2 billion Gov. Rick Snyder wants. There isn’t much support for increasing the state’s gasoline and diesel tax or for hiking registration fees among legislators, many of whom are running for re-election next year.
“There is a larger look at tax reconstruction,” he said, without revealing details. “I hear you. It’s just not easy money. We’re going to work through it.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be addressed until next year,” said State Rep. Brandon Dillon, a Grand Rapids Democrat. “If and when we do something, we want to make sure it has public support.”
Hildebrand and Dillon were two-thirds of a legislative trio that addressed the council. State Rep. Winnie Brinks, also a Grand Rapids Democrat, completed the lineup. Brinks said she wasn’t involved in trying to find a funding solution but is interested in the issue.
“I’m looking forward to see what proposals they’ll come up with,” she said.
Brinks, however, was pleased that both state chambers came together to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The action is expected to provide insurance coverage for up to 400,000 uninsured residents with the federal government picking up the entire tab for three years and 90 percent of the cost starting in year four.
“It was done in the end with bipartisan support. It has a lot of benefits for business. A healthy work force is a good work force. This is something I see as being very helpful to companies as well as to individuals,” she said.
Brinks said she was disappointed the measure wasn’t given immediate effect; the coverage won’t start until April 1 instead of Jan. 1, and the state will miss out on $7 million of federal funding for each day of the first quarter, a loss of $630 million in total.
“It wasn’t what I really wanted to see, but both sides came together to support it,” said Dillon, who added the bipartisan effort legislators showed on Medicaid expansion could help with next year’s discussions on transportation funding.
Dillon told board members funding public education was a big issue for him.
“I firmly believe we need more money for public education. Otherwise, more will be spent on incarceration, and work forces will be less educated and the economy will suffer.”
Brinks said she has a seat on the Democrats’ Small Business Task Force and is looking at ways the state can assist entrepreneurs. Hildebrand said he is putting together legislation that would give disabled veterans a property-tax exemption.
The Metro Council adopted its $1.9 million general fund budget for the coming year, which begins Oct. 1. The FY 2014 spending plan is up by $92,000 from this year’s $1.8 million and is projected to produce a surplus of $67,000 at year’s end.
GVMC Executive Director John Weiss revealed that Wendy Ogilvie has joined the organization as its new director of environmental programs. Ogilvie comes to the council from local engineering firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. Weiss said she has been affiliated with GVMC for 13 years.
“Wendy has also held leadership positions serving governmental agencies and citizen groups in Berrien, Cass, Calhoun, Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent, Huron and Van Buren counties,” said Weiss. “She has significant experience with environmental agencies at all levels of government including MDNR, MDEQ and the EPA.”