The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 10, 2020

Road funding redo on tap in 2020

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING - The anniversary of the first year of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration has come and gone, and the state seems no closer to solving its chronic problem of inadequate road funding. Michigan routinely ranks in the bottom five among the states in per capita road spending, and the bottom one or two states in terms of the condition of its roads.

Whitmer ran for office on a "fix the damn roads" platform, but Republicans who run the state House and Senate have barely budged on their decades-old strategy of not fixing the damn roads. 

"It's a great disappointment," Whitmer told reporters last month. The news service MIRS reported that her take on what the GOP offered for their road fix was "gravel roads and raiding the teacher retirement fund" both of which were unacceptable to her. "I'm not giving up," she said. "We're going to get the damn roads fixed."

Whitmer's plan to raise the gas tax by 45 cents a gallon never really got off the ground. The plan would have raised about $2 billion per year to devote to road repairs. 

A report by former Gov. Rick Snyder's 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, published in November 2016, identified a $2.2 billion road and bridge repair funding gap in Michigan.

The most recent increase in road repair money took place in 2015, when state Republicans signed off on a slow-to-implement plan that won't be fully implemented until 2021. It raised gas taxes by 7.3 cents, generating about $400 million last year. That plan combined the gas tax hike with an increase in registration fees a raid on the general fund will eventually raise about $1.2 billion - but only about 40 percent will go to MDOT, with the remainder going to local roads.

"It's already obvious that it's not going to be enough," said MDOT Director Paul Ajegba, who famously told the Detroit Free Press last year that the state doesn’t always fix roads the way they should be fixed because “we don’t have the money to build it the right way.”

State Republicans and others have maintained they have concerns beyond money, such as about the quality of work, use of warranties with contractors, and truck weights.

“A budget is a budget, and it’s important,” said state Republican Rep. Jack O’Malley from Lake Ann, who leads the House transportation policy committee. “But if you want to do this right," he told Bridge Magazine, "you need to have good policy and reforms to go along with that budget.”

Whitmer said she is working on a reformulated plant to raise road and bridge repair money and will re-start negotiations with the Republican legislature.