By Tim Martin
Lansing, Mich. — Frustrated with inaction from Michigan lawmakers, a coalition that wants the state to spend more money on road repairs is trying a new lobbying approach.
The Michigan Transportation Team recently sent the state’s 148 House and Senate members and those running for office in November maps of their own districts highlighting major roads that are in poor condition, according to the coalition. The group contended that the lack of action to boost repairs over the past two years will make the state’s major roads $1.1 billion more expensive to repair than it would have cost otherwise.
Roads often cost more to fix the longer they’re allowed to deteriorate.
“Legislators must understand that ignoring the poor condition of Michigan roads will not make the problem go away,” according to a statement attributed to John Niemela, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.
The Michigan Transportation Team includes business groups, road builders, transportation agencies and motorists. The group is trying to raise awareness about road conditions and persuade lawmakers to pass measures that would raise more money for road repairs.
Proposals that would boost road money, including higher taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, have stalled in the Legislature. All 148 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs in the November election and lawmakers have avoided talk of tax increases during an election year.
Some lawmakers said the fuel tax or user fee increases could come up in the Legislature’s lame duck session after the November election. Lawmakers will have about two months to pass laws before the current legislative session ends and a new Legislature takes over in January.
“I keep hearing talk that we might be able to take this up in the lame duck session, and I’m looking forward to pursuing that,” said state Rep. Pam Byrnes, a Democrat from Washtenaw County’s Lyndon Township and a sponsor of legislation that would raise fuel taxes enough for Michigan to keep more federal matching money for roads.
State officials are planning to delay hundreds of road projects over the next five years if Michigan doesn’t come up with a plan to raise enough money to keep its federal match.
Michigan stands to go from spending roughly $1.4 billion on roads this year with the help of federal stimulus money to around $600 million three of the next four years if the state fails to raise enough of its own money to qualify for more federal money.
Among the bills stalled in the Legislature are proposals that would raise the state’s 19-cent per gallon gas tax to 23 cents this year and to 27 cents in 2013. Michigan’s 15-cent per gallon diesel tax would increase to 21 cents this year and 27 cents in 2013.