Budget director says roads are priority, legislators must agree

February 14, 2014
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In the sunshine of a pause from unprecedented and relentless snow accumulations, no Michigan driver can avert their attention from the equally unprecedented proliferation of potholes, further destroying an already crumbling and dangerous infrastructure.

Gov. Rick Snyder two weeks ago proposed the 2014-15 fiscal year budget, allocating $256 million for roads, although it is widely known that the cost of repairing decayed roads and bridges just to “good” condition has a price tag of more than $2 billion per year — and that was before the snows of ’13-14.

The governor’s current budget proposal falls far short and he is undoubtedly correct when he assesses the escalating cost for each year legislators ignore the issue. Legislators have ignored the growing cost burden to Michigan residents and played politic instead, bouncing to some future date that may be less politically unsavory, but at what cost then?

Legislators don’t do any favors to constituents in willingly allowing the cost to escalate. State Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R- Walker, chair of the House Appropriations Transportation subcommittee, is among the lone voices of reason in the legislature in his advocacy for tax solutions to pay for the repairs now. Michigan taxpayers are incurring an additional $1.5 billion burden for every year of legislative stalling.

It may be cheaper at that future date to buy oil directly from an OPEC nation, but even an increase in the fuel tax is an option of dwindling return. A combination of facts shows a continued trend of far fewer car owners and increasing purchases of alternative energy vehicles. Even license tab increases or some combination would not pay the bill.

The state is currently restricted from using the Michigan sales tax for roads and bridges; it is constitutionally protected funding for schools and local units of government. The Michigan gas tax was last raised — 17 years ago — by 4 cents to 19 cents per gallon by Gov. John Engler in 1997.

Retiring Michigan budget director John Nixon, in an interview with the Business Journal and PBS station WGVU-GVK’s “West Michigan Week” panelists, said: “We have a crisis right now. We put a proposal out there. We need to look at the gas tax and you need to be able to index it.”

Nixon, who announced he will be stepping down after four years as budget director to return to his home state of Utah, spoke with conviction.

“We’re going to do it. We’re going to get something done on the roads — relentless positive action. This year.” The segment aired Sunday, Feb. 16.

The issue has long been a focus for business associations across the state, including the Grand Rapids Area of Commerce, which has relentlessly pushed the transportation issue (along with restoration of education funding).

It is business owners who are hauling the freight, not only of goods and services but in necessary tax increases to fix the roads. The repair bills for vehicle damage are equally onerous. But even taxpayers are sick of the “me-first” politics. The Detroit Free Press conducted a poll last week with EPIC-MRA showing Michigan residents polled about the state’s almost $1 billion surplus eschewed an income tax in favor of road repair.

Nixon and Snyder call it “relentless positive action,” and it can’t come soon enough.

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