Advocates for upped transportation funding took another spin around the Capitol this morning, dropping orange barrels along the building's walkways to make its point that Michigan would allegedly lose 12,255 jobs unless $1 billion or more is poured into fixing the state's roads soon.
But despite the Michigan Transportation Team's (MTT) tightly tailored message on stopping construction industry job losses, the same roadblock that has stopped this plan for the last 10 years remains. The political will doesn't exist in Lansing to raise the gas tax, particularly in the shadow of the state's first income tax increase in 25 years and a wildly unpopular use tax expansion to services.
"What legislator in their right mind wouldn't vote for jobs and investment?" asked Mark JOHNSTON, the president of Ajax Paving Industries, Inc., who spoke today of moving part of his operations to Florida for lack of work.
If voting for those jobs and investment meant hiking the state's gasoline tax nine cents over three years to 28 cents a gallon and raising the tax on diesel fuel 13 cents to the same 28 cents, as is called for in HB 4575 and 4576, the answer to Johnston's question is likely "Quite a few."
Rep. Hoon-Yung HOPGOOD (D-Taylor), the chair of the House Transportation Committee, said he's yet to get any signal from his leadership that there's a will for him to move the bills. Hopgood sponsored the diesel tax legislation, but Hopgood didn't indicate that he was in any hurry to move his bill or HB 4575 along any time soon.
MMT — led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and union groups — makes the following points:
- The Department of Transportation (MDOT) estimates a $421 million (30 percent) drop in its highway capital program from last fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2007) to next fiscal year (FY 2009).
- A University of Michigan report estimated that Michigan would lose 12,255 jobs in many sectors of the economy if the money dries up.
- The decrease comes at a time when the state has 3,000 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges.
"For anyone who cares about turning Michigan's economy around, increased transportation funding needs to be a top priority," said MITA Vice President Mike NYSTROM.
MITA has been aggressive in its attempt to hike the gasoline tax, going as far as to give lawmakers pieces of broken concrete from bridges to prove its point that Michigan's bridges are in disrepair.
At today's news conference, Nystrom and Chamber of Commerce Vice President Rich STUDLEY deflected questions of a tax increase by pointing out that if a single factory threatened to eliminate 12,225 jobs, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) would dispatch a team immediately to throw around tax credits and emergency packages to keep the company in town.
The two saw little difference here, where congestion in Southeast Michigan continues to be a problem and unemployment continues to be the nation's highest. Both suggested they're hopeful the gas tax bills could move by the end of the year.
Hopgood told MIRS he's interested in looking at giving local units of government an option to collect money they believe they need to fix roads, but HB 4575 and HB 4576 are not expected to make an appearance on the House Transportation Committee agenda in the near future.