The government affairs team at MITA has been very active following Governor Snyder’s special message in late October. Given the rapidly changing environment, MITA staff felt it was necessary to provide members an update on the status of the efforts to secure additional infrastructure dollars.
The governor’s message called for an additional $1.4 billion a year in increased revenue for roads. The Snyder plan outlined several key components:
Eliminating the state’s gas tax.
Instituting a percentage tax based on fuel prices at the wholesale level.
Eliminating registration loopholes like the three-year 10% reduction on new vehicles.
Phasing in an increase in vehicle registration fees by $120 per year.
Consolidation of road agencies.
Just because the governor proposes a bold solution does not mean that the legislature will quickly rubberstamp it. The legislature’s response has been slow and cautious.
In the days following the governor’s message, the MITA team began meeting with key legislative decision makers. Staff has personally met with House and Senate leadership, both Republican and Democrat, and chairs of the Transportation Committees in both houses on multiple occasions.
MITA was pleased with the overall message, however, much of the legislative legwork still needs to be completed even now that the message has been delivered. Bills were not prepared, no specific deadlines were set and no key legislative sponsors were recruited.
MITA staff is working aggressively with the administration to put an effective political plan in place. MITA has approached several legislators about sponsoring the legislation and believe that that there are those who may be willing to sponsor key pieces of the plan.
In conversations with the House Speaker, he believes this effort needs to be a multiple step process. He has suggested that the House may be able to pass legislation that redirects a portion of the sales tax on fuel to roads from the general fund. That would provide about $100 million. He said another preliminary step required--before any tax is raised--is to implement significant new reforms. As an example, one suggestion made has been to allow county boards of commissions to take over county road commissions. A package of bills to do that has subsequently been reported from House Transportation Committee. The question becomes, is this reform significant enough to convince legislators to proceed with the tax and fee bills?
In the Senate, there is legislation that would eliminate the state’s gas tax and replace it with a 1 percent sales tax on all goods. The bill is designed to be revenue neutral and would require a vote of the public to be adopted. While the state sales tax provides a more stable and increasing tax base, MITA has concerns that the plan provides no immediate new revenue. There are also concerns about which groups might come forward to try to get increased revenues on the same bill and what happens if the ballot proposal is rejected by voters?
There are indications that the Senate may try to approve this bill before the end of the year.
MITA staff is aggressively moving forward.
New polling data was very encouraging and staff is in the process of scheduling meetings with caucus members, key leaders and political staff, to have the pollster do an in-depth presentation. MITA believes the data is counter intuitive to what most lawmakers believe—it says that the general public recognizes the state has poor roads and are willing to pay additional money if they feel the money is being spent wisely and efficiently. MITA will be conducting a series of polling presentations over the next few weeks.
Staff is continuing to meet one-on-one with key legislators and asking for their support of the governor’s plan. Staff is also asking what “reforms” are necessary to move ahead with new funding. MITA continues to work closely with Gov. Snyder’s team to identify supporters, policy tweaks and discuss timing of legislative action.
While approval of a comprehensive funding plan is not likely by the end of this year, MITA is working on getting smaller goals completed by the end of 2011. Staff is also working on identifying which pieces of the legislative plan can be adopted early in 2012, before election-year positioning ends all legitimate policymaking discussions.
In the meantime, MITA is continuing to put pressure on lawmakers back home and members are encouraged to read the attached document that outlines the ongoing grassroots plan.
To view a memo from Mike Nystrom detailing MITA’s grassroots plan, click here. To see results of the recent poll, click here.