Kahn: Transportation A Priority In 2013
Monday, January 7, 2013
Sen. Roger Kahn, who headed a task force on transportation near the end of 2012, said on Monday that Governor Rick Snyder is very likely to include transportation in his State of the State address, currently scheduled for January 16.
"Conversations are going on with a view of toward fast-tracking this this time around," Mr. Kahn (R-Saginaw Township) said in a phone interview. "The hearings have shown that we're officially using the dollars that we have. Though there may be further efficiencies, they're virtually trivial. Therefore, it's time to discuss the type of roads we have and provide for the savings to have those good roads."
In October 2011, Mr. Snyder gave a special message on infrastructure at Lawrence Technological University with a plan that had hoped to reform the way the transportation is funded, how that money is distributed and who is in charge of spending the money. He first suggested an increase in the state vehicle registration fees to generate the then-$1.4 billion in new revenue needed to maintain the transportation system as it stands.
With no immediate action in 2011, that number inflated to $1.5 billion last year, and Mr. Kahn said the check now stands at $1.6 billion, as the roads tend to degrade to the tune of $100 million a year. That $100 million could be taken care of by having more efficiencies in the system, but the bigger picture problem would still persist.
Mr. Snyder also suggested then that the state get rid of its basic road funding formula, which currently directs 39.1 percent to the state, 39.1 percent to county road commissions and 21.8 percent to cities and villages. Not long after, Mr. Snyder revised his plan to instead call for a revised gasoline tax that raised more revenue than the exists with the existing levy and a smaller vehicle registration fee hike (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 17, 2012) and a bill package was brought forth.
But it died as legislators recoiled at raising revenues in an election year.
Mr. Kahn said a request has been put in for the creation of eight bills this time, many of which are "upgrades" to the previous legislation.
"In conjunction with that, there is a joint resolution to look at the sales tax," Mr. Kahn said. "We're waiting for official announcements of who's going to be the Transportation chair in the House."
The efforts then will need to focus on getting that individual up to speed.
Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said his organization is waiting on bill introduction, but did not know anything specific about what those bills would or would not include.
"The same options continue to be available to us, it's just which ones end up being the best options," Mr. Nystrom said. "And that's up to the Legislature to determine."
He too believes it will be a top priority in 2013.
"I would say that there's almost unanimous recognition of need amongst elected officials, but in the end I think (Mr. Kahn is) right: It's just going to take the primary folks and leadership to come together and agree on what the solution is," he said. "I truly believe we can get this done. It needs to get done. We cannot continue to let our system fail and expect it will get any easier in the future."
Mr. Kahn did note three matters of importance in trying to finally move forward with real reform: decreasing the damage to peoples' cars (which he said has been estimated at about $300 per vehicle per year or more), improving the business climate in terms of tourism and businesses efficiently being able to move back and forth and increasing the number of jobs available with an enhanced construction season.
He said MITA, the County Road Association of Michigan, various chambers of commerce and labor groups, private industry, the Legislature and the governor all believe the time is now right.
"I believe that they are in an agreement," he said. "They need to be in the same room to say 'yes we'll do it. That's one of the parts that still need enunciation."