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Metro Detroit lawmakers Putting Up Fight Against Road Funding Proposal

Jake Neher/MPRN

State lawmakers will spend their last nine session days of the year trying to agree on a way to fix Michigan’s roads.

Governor Rick Snyder is pushing a Senate-approved plan that would raise the state’s gas tax. The plan is expected to boost road funding by up to one-point-five billion dollars a year.

But as The Michigan Public Radio Network’s Jake Neher reports, it looks like lawmakers from one part of the state are putting up road blocks.

[Nat sound – Traffic]

If you drive along the Lodge Freeway service drive in Detroit between McNichols and Meyers roads, you’ll notice a big part of the road is just… missing.

“Yeah, a whole lane,” says Trent Holmes, who works at a school right across from the mother of all potholes.  “The roads have been bad for a long time,” he says.  “Terrible. Potholes tearing up your car, bending your rims up, chewing up your tires, costing you a lot of money.”

But Holmes is skeptical that policymakers in Lansing will come through with a plan that will actually fix the roads.

And many lawmakers from Metro Detroit are equally unconvinced their districts will benefit enough.

Republican state Representative Kurt Heise of Plymouth Township says under the way road funding is currently distributed to communities, his constituents pay more in taxes for roads than they get back.

“Many of us are donor communities,” he says.  “I think the vast majority of the money needs to be spent where most of the people live, ok? And our current formula, in my opinion, doesn’t do that.”

Representative Jeff Farrington of Utica in Macomb County agrees.

“It just doesn’t make sense to ask our voters for more money just to spend it elsewhere,” he says.

Farrington chairs the House Tax Policy Committee.

It’s not just Metro Detroit Republicans who are concerned about the value they’d get from the current road funding plan.

At an event this week in Southfield promoting the bills, Democratic state Representative Marilyn Lane of Fraser asked Governor Rick Snyder to only allow new road funding to go to districts of lawmakers who vote in favor the legislation.

“I don’t want other areas that are saying ‘no’ to the funding to impact my district,” she says.  “My district needs it. Macomb needs it.”

The governor and top transportation officials admit changes to the state’s complex road funding distribution system may be needed. The framework of that system was drawn up in 1951 – years before the federal interstate system even existed.

But Snyder says those discussions should happen next year, and after lawmakers pass the road funding plan they have in front of them.

“My view is, we need to get a revenue solution in place and then we have a lot of opportunity to discuss, what’s an updated formula?” he asks.  “But to bring up Act 51 at the same time is just something that would complicate it enough, I doubt anything would get don’t.”

And the governor says further delays in finding a solution mean more Michiganders losing money, jobs, and possibly their lives.

“Every day that passes, it’s going to get worse,” he says.  “Pothole season isn’t going to be any better next year. We need to make that decision that we’re going to do something right for us and for our kids and for our safety and for our job creation opportunities.”

The governor also points out the current road funding legislation isn’t just about doing things “the old way.” It also requires more warrantees that guarantee the quality and lifespan of road work. It would increase penalties for overweight trucks. And it would change the way taxes are collected at the pump in an effort to make the funding model more sustainable.

But Southeast Michigan legislators say this might be their best chance to change a funding system that is unsustainable into the future. If it doesn't happen now with roads at the top of the priority list, it may never happen.

Jake Neher is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He covers the State Legislature and other political events in Lansing.
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