road funding

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A proposed tax hike aimed at improving Michigan's transportation infrastructure and schools is heading to voters.

  The Michigan Legislature has put a sales tax increase on the May statewide ballot as part of a road funding plan.

Michigan lawmakers want you to decide on roads.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders have struck a deal on road funding.

After many, many closed-door meetings, the announcement was made at a news conference at the Capitol.

To get to more than $1 billion in funding, the centerpiece of the plan is an increase in the state sales tax. It’s something voters would have to decide in a ballot question in May.

Snyder says that’s OK with him.

Listen to our conversation with Rick Pluta and Zoe Clark below.

Jake Neher / MPRN

A group of semi-truck drivers made some noise Tuesday outside the state Capitol.

Several 18-wheelers circled the building with horns blaring to protest legislation that would increase fines and fees for overweight vehicles. It’s likely to be part of a compromise plan to increase funding to fix Michigan’s roads.

State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, says too many lawmakers are blaming truckers for poor road conditions.

“What are some of the folks here doing? They’re pointing fingers at them as if they’re the problem – and, ‘Go get ‘em!’ I think they’re frustrated with that and I think they’ve had enough,” said Casperson.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

It appears there hasn’t been much progress toward finding a way to boost state road funding in the Legislature’s “lame duck” session.

Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders met early on Monday to try to get the discussions rolling in the Legislature’s final week in 2014.

State Senator Randy Richardville
Photo courtesy of www.senate.michigan.gov

The state Legislature is taking steps to hammer out a road funding compromise in the final days of its 2014 session.

The House and Senate passed plans that are drastically different. The Senate approved legislation that would essentially double the state’s gas tax to pay for road improvements. The House plan would divert revenues from schools and local governments and would not raise any taxes.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

Governor Rick Snyder says a plan adopted by the state House to shift sales taxes collected on fuel sales to roads won’t work. He says that could rob schools and local governments of money they need to operate.

The state House passed the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) yesterday and it’s fair to say it was a little dose of Republican Speaker Jase Bolger’s “here’s-how-bad-it-can-get-if-you-don’t-play-along.”

The RFRA was supposed to move in tandem with a measure that would add protections based on sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights law. That was a version that Bolger said he would accept, as long as there was a separate bill that would provide some cover for people who have religious objections to gay rights.

But LGBT advocates said there also should be explicit protections for transgender people. Bolger said he wouldn’t support that.

So, Bolger got the RFRA passed last night, without moving on the LGBT protections, showing the LGBT community just what can happen when you cross him.

User _chrisUK / flickr.com

The state House has passed a $1.2 billion plan to boost road funding without raising taxes and instead using money that would otherwise go to schools and local governments.

A bill approved Thursday night by the Republican-led chamber would gradually eliminate the 6 percent sales tax at the pump and gradually increase per-gallon fuel taxes.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

State lawmakers return to Lansing this week after a two week break for deer hunting and Thanksgiving.

Every Republican and Democratic leader at the state Capitol says fixing Michigan’s roads will be the top priority between now and the end of the year.

“Certainly, the primary focus will be on discovering a solution for funding of transportation in Michigan, specifically roads and bridges that are in desperate need of repair,” said Ari Adler, a spokesperson for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

Adler says the speaker wants more taxes paid at the pump to go to roads.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING (AP) - Michigan lawmakers have three weeks left in their lame-duck session to enact a potentially wide-ranging assortment of bills, topped by a measure to significantly boost road funding.

  The Republican-led Senate's recent approval of a bill to more than double state gasoline and diesel taxes over four years faces an "uphill climb" in the GOP-controlled House, says Speaker Jase Bolger. He's floating an alternative to gradually eliminate the state sales tax at the pump while raising per-gallon fuel taxes a corresponding amount.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

More money for roads. It’s being debated again in Lansing. Right now there’s talk about more than $1 billion a year to improve the state’s roads and bridges.

But Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council wants to make sure there’s money for mass transit: reliable buses and rail lines. As of now, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about improving mass transit. Listen to our interview with Chris Kolb below:


Inside the Michigan Senate.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are considering multiple plans that would significantly increase state road funding. The state Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would raise the state’s gas tax to pay for road improvements.

But state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says they could still try to pass a plan that would raise the state’s sales tax.

“We may look to change the sales tax. And that may be a better way to fix the structural problem that we know exists at the pump already,” Richardville told reporters on Thursday.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week voters in four out of five counties approved special millages to fix and maintain local roads.

Road funding has been a hot topic the last few elections as state lawmakers struggle to come up with a way to fund road repairs.

County Road Association of Michigan Director Denise Donahue says more local governments are asking voters for dedicated road millages.

Almost two years ago, I spoke to a group called CRAM, the County Road Association of Michigan. These are the folks who maintain Michigan’s streets and highways, both urban and rural.

I found these folks mainly had frustrating professional lives, trying to do too much with too few resources and being blamed for problems they weren’t being given enough money to fix.

Yesterday, however, some pundits may have been startled when their political action group, RUSH-PAC, announced it was endorsing Gov. Rick Snyder for re-election. That may surprise some because though the governor did announce a plan to raise revenue for the roads, he’s failed to get it through the Legislature.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
senate.michigan.gov

The state Legislature is scheduled to meet about 20 more days between now and the end of the year.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he has two top priorities he’d like to accomplish before then. The first is to find a way to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. The second is to ease term limits on Michigan lawmakers.

Richardville says there’s too little experience in the Legislature, thanks to current limits.

“People in general say, ‘I like the idea of term limits.’ But I don’t think they’d like it to be as restrictive as they are. If they knew how quickly and how much turnover there was here, I think they would rethink it,” said Richardville.

Richardville says he’s considering a plan that would allow term-limited lawmakers to collect a certain number of petition signatures allowing them to run again. He did not say exactly how long lawmakers should be allowed to serve.

LisaW123 / Flickr

This story was updated at 8:07 on 8/28/14.

Winter weather is still a few months away – we hope – but road agencies are already preparing for the season.

And they're dealing with a spike in salt prices. The statewide average for road salt is about $66 per ton. That's up nearly 50% from last year.

Michigan's County Road Association says high demand from last winter means vendors haven't been able to adequately restock.

Ed Noyola is the association's deputy director.

By now coverage of last week’s Detroit area flooding has receded. For now, many of us have temporarily forgotten about how bad the potholes were last winter. We are trying, after all, to enjoy the last few days of summer.

However, roads, unlike little boys with scraped knees, don’t heal themselves.

When I was a kid I remember being told that the best thing you could do for a scraped knee was to spit on it.

This is actually not true. Most people know this by now, especially if you’ve ever taken a personal hygiene class. There are a lot more dangerous myths out there, however.

One of which is that we can’t afford to fix our infrastructure.

The fact is that in sheer dollars-and-cents terms we can’t afford not to. This weekend I talked to Jeff Cranson, the head of communications for MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation.

I asked him to help me get some hard, cold numbers about the cost of both repairing the roads and also the costs of not doing so.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder says massive flooding this week in and around Detroit reinforces the need to boost state spending on roads. Snyder says Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure may have played a role in the floods, although it’s too early to tell for sure.

“I don’t want to be premature, but you would imagine it would have some consequences in terms of magnifying the effect on the freeway flooding,” Snyder told reporters as he surveyed damage at homes and schools in Royal Oak on Friday. “That wouldn’t have affected the homes, but in terms of the freeway challenges.”

A flooded freeway in Royal Oak, Michigan
User: BGilbow / Flickr

Monday’s monster thunderstorm in Metro Detroit was the second-heaviest single day of rainfall since Michigan started keeping records.

The rainstorm didn't just close freeways and roads and flood basements, it focused attention back on the often-overlooked problems with our transportation infrastructure.

Jeff Cranson is director of communications for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“It is a good thing now that people realized that we’ve got a number of depressed freeways in Detroit,” says Cranson.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

Democrats in the state Senate say talks over how to pay to fix Michigan’s roads are “back to square one.”

A legislative work group met for the first time today to find a way to boost state road funding.

The Senate left Lansing in June for its summer break after failing to pass a number of plans to fix the roads.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says this is a new starting point.

“We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

Senate Democrats want to revisit a plan that would raise the state’s gas tax to increase funding for roads. That plan came closest to winning approval in the Senate in June. But Richardville says that plan is “all but off the table now.”

Robert McCann is a spokesperson for the state Senate Democrats.

“The unfortunate reality of that is that it means we’re still further behind than we were three months ago, really, when there was a plan on the table that our side of the aisle put up votes for,” said McCann. “And, unfortunately, it was the Republicans that couldn’t get their own caucus in place to get that passed.”

Most estimates say Michigan needs to boost infrastructure spending by between $1 billion and $2 billion a year to keep the roads from getting worse. 

Chelsea Oakes / Creative Commons

Most state leaders agree that Michigan needs to fix its roads. But they’re still struggling with how to do that.

In the meantime, local governments are taking matters into their own hands.

WKAR-TV

The top Democrat in the state House says a road funding solution will probably have to wait until after the November election.

State House Minority Leader Tim Greimel says too many lawmakers are not willing to make the tough vote until they’re past their reelection bids. That’s because boosting infrastructure spending by more than a billion dollars a year would likely mean raising taxes to pay for it.

“I think there’s a very high likelihood that it doesn’t occur until lame duck, unfortunately,” said Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, on an appearance over the weekend on the Michigan Public Television program Off the Record.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

There was much anger and disappointment last month when state lawmakers failed to figure out a way to fund badly needed road repairs before leaving for their summer break.

And now there's road funding trouble ahead in Washington, D.C. Federal gas taxes go into the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The money is handed out to states in the form of road construction payments.

Michigan gets more than $1 billion a year from the trust fund. But that could come to a screeching halt before the summer is out.

Mlive's Jonathon Oosting wrote that the fund is running low due to declining fuel tax revenue, and could be fully depleted by late August or September.

“The federal government is already making plans to scale back payments to states such as Michigan, if Congress doesn’t figure out a way to replenish this fund,” Oosting said.

The fund is not collecting as much money as it used to from gas taxes, as people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, or opting out of driving in favor of public transportation.

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

The living conditions in Michigan are crumbling and the residents aren't happy about it.

That's according to a report by the Michigan Economic Center, called The Michigan Dream at Risk.

It says that over the past 10 years, Michigan's legislators have cut support to the things Michigan citizens love most.

Because of this, Michigan's roads, outdoors, and schools are suffering.

The report suggests more than 60% of those polled favor funding for public investments.

John Austin is the Director of MEC.

Peter Ito / flickr

The state Senate failed to pass a road repair plan.

Drivers who vote have been clear that they want these roads fixed, yet Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says the failure was "not that big a deal, really."

Chris Gautz, the Lansing reporter for Crain's Detroit Business, explained what Richardville was trying to say.

Gautz said Richardville was trying to point out that the money budgeted for road funding would be in next year’s budget, and that money wouldn't start being generated until January.

“All of the big, monumental changes they were trying to make in the state’s transportation funding system were long-term fixes, and weren’t going to fill a pothole on your street this summer,” Gautz said.

*Listen to the  full interview above. 

"Unfortunately, this is an issue that I would admit there are too much politics going on." That was Gov. Rick Snyder last night, after it became clear that a major roads funding package was not going to get passed in the state Senate.

"...If we were sitting at the kitchen table as a big family,” he continued, “and you looked at this issue, we would have solved this problem.”

Sure. Or our big family would fight about who wrecked the roads in the first place and that it was your fault – you and your big truck – which is why we can’t have nice roads and don’t you know I have a primary and, by the way, I haven’t forgotten who wrecked the roads that you won’t fix because you should.

But, we digress.

There were a lot of reasons why this road-funding deal failed to come together, despite some recent instances of actual bipartisanship, like increasing the state’s minimum wage and the Detroit rescue package. But those were exceptions in this era of Republican hegemony in Lansing.

Researchers are going to find out how well rubberized asphalt will resist potholes.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Legislation to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads will have to wait until lawmakers return from their summer break.

The state Senate failed multiple times this week to pass comprehensive road spending plans – and even rejected legislation that would make structural changes to the system, but keep funding at or near current levels.

Now, lawmakers have left Lansing and probably won’t hold any more votes until August or September.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

    

The intense Michigan winter has put roads funding at the top of the legislative agenda. Things lagged for the past few months but began to heat up as the Legislature prepares for summer break which begins next week.

Why has it been so difficult to get consensus on a funding package?  

Today we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

Listen to the interview above.

Not any of the reporters. Just a tired person.
taholtorf.wordpress.com

Lawmakers in the Michigan Senate stayed up late into the night last night to try to get a road funding deal done.

They failed.

As the night wore on, and the failed votes piled up, reporters watching the proceedings grew tired and took to Twitter to vent their exasperation.

See how it unfolded in the Storify below (or view it here):

It is not exactly true that the Michigan Legislature can’t get anything done.

For example, our lawmakers did pass a bill to allow a fur dealer to hold a license to trap beaver.

Don’t you feel better about that? The governor signed it yesterday.

On the down side, they completely failed to get done the voters' most important priority, fixing our terrible roads.

You see, fixing the roads would cost money.

It would also require making hard choices, which many elected officials seem allergic to, especially in an election year.   

Some of our lawmakers seem dead set against raising any taxes, even though polls have shown this is the one thing voters are willing to pay for. Some can’t see past their narrow ideological blinders enough to simply get the job done.

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