Calling the proposed 2011 Department of Transportation budget bill a scheme to "rob Peter to pay Paul," Michigan business and labor leaders today called on the Michigan Legislature to put partisanship aside and find a real solution to the state's transportation funding crisis.
The Republican-led Senate today approved Senate Bill 1164 on a 21-17 vote. The budget bill includes harmful cuts but no stable revenue sources in an attempt to come up with the $84 million Michigan needs to qualify for $475 million in federal matching transportation funds. The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee for action.
"The Legislature is facing some very difficult budget decisions, but cannibalizing the current budget to secure federal funds just doesn't make sense," said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), and co-chair of the Michigan Transportation Team (MTT). "Inaction on transportation funding has caught up with legislators, and instead of providing a stable source of revenue, policymakers are imposing dramatic cuts - only to harm economic development and cost taxpayers more in the long run."
The plan is built entirely on cuts, rather than desperately needed new revenue.
The economic development funds used for infrastructure upgrades were slashed by $27 million. The Transportation Economic Development Fund (TEDF) was created to assist in the funding of highway, road, and street projects necessary to support economic growth. In many cases, these dollars could be used to match federal aid.
"The Transportation Economic Development Fund cuts would cripple a key economic development tool that provides infrastructure upgrades to lure businesses to Michigan," said Nystrom. "Cutting these funds will do nothing to support Michigan's transportation system or our economy."
Michigan tourists lured by the Pure Michigan ads will see closed signs on half of Michigan's Welcome Centers and 6-feet-tall grass in the highway medians. Welcome Center funding was cut in half ($2.5 million) and snow plowing and weekend snow removal will be significantly reduced or eliminated on most non-freeway state trunklines, due to the massive $48 million cut in maintenance.
"Cutting road maintenance to leverage more federal road dollars is ludicrous," said Nystrom. "The condition of our roads will continue to deteriorate - and the safety of residents will be put at risk - if we don't have enough funds to repair potholes and have adequate snow removal and highway mowing."
SB 1164 is a clear raid upon Comprehensive Transportation Funds (CTF), intended for public transportation projects. The bill also takes state matching funds for the federal Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) program, which will result in an even greater shortfall in matching funds for public transportation projects in 2011.
A multitude of transit services and programs were slashed by $7 million.
"By cutting money for programs like Transportation to Work/Work First, the state is making it even more difficult for people who rely on transit services to get to work, attend school or contribute to the state's economy," said Clark Harder, executive director of the Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA). "Michigan legislators must work to create a budget that fully funds all of Michigan's transportation systems."
The County Road Association of Michigan (CRAM) had reported that as many as 21 counties are in jeopardy of losing their federal matching dollars.
"The Senate is making no effort to help counties, cities and villages match their federal aid requirements," said Harder. "There is no effort to help capture more than $30 million in federal transit dollars that will be sent to other states."
Transportation experts say funding should come from dependable resources, such as vehicle registration fees, user fees on gasoline and diesel fuel, and other new funding strategies.
"SB 1164 merely robs Peter to pay Paul," Harder added. "To redirect these funds from their intended purpose to meet the match for federal roads is,
"We hope the Senate and House make the right choice to invest in Michigan's economy and put partisanship aside and work together to find a real solution," Nystrom said. "The poor quality of our roads and bridges has already passed the crisis stage. No more excuses - Fix Michigan's roads now!"
Michigan residents can voice their concerns about road funding by signing an online petition at www.drivemi.org or by calling a toll-free number - 888-719-3087 - set up by MTT. Callers simply enter their five-digit ZIP code to be connected with their legislative offices.