Michigan Legislature OKs $175M for roads, bridges

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature on Thursday unanimously approved a $175 million infusion into the state’s roads, a 7 percent boost over existing spending and a bid by lawmakers to accelerate a two-year-old deal to improve deteriorating transportation infrastructure.

The legislation, which Gov. Rick Snyder will sign, also includes $1 million for state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s investigation into how Michigan State University handled past allegations against now-imprisoned Larry Nassar, a campus sports doctor who molested gymnasts and others under the guise of treatment.

State and local road agencies were due to receive $2.5 billion for road and bridge work this fiscal year. Under the measure, they would get $175 million more — with the state and counties receiving 39 percent each and cities and villages getting 22 percent, per an existing formula.

Before voting, senators debated the effectiveness of a $1.2 billion road-funding deal that was enacted in 2015 and is being phased in by 2021. It includes a mix of higher fuel taxes, registration fees and — starting later this year — annual transfers of general funds to the transportation budget.

Republicans rejected a Democratic proposal to shift $275 million from savings to pump a combined $450 million more into roads this year.

“As potholes wreak havoc on vehicles and jeopardize driver safety, we cannot afford to wait until 2021 to fully fund this problem,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat. He said the $175 million in additional spending — which was first proposed in Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2018-19 budget blueprint last month — is “a day late and a dollar short” for motorists paying higher gas taxes and vehicle fees. He contended that it makes sense to tap the rainy day savings account because concrete from overpasses and highways has smashed into some driver’s windshields.

“It’s raining in Michigan, literally at times raining concrete,” Hertel said.

Majority Republicans countered that it will take time to smooth roads after years of disinvestment.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell said the current budget already includes $600 million more for roads and bridges thanks to the 2015 laws, and next year there will be at least $750 million more than a couple years ago.

“The problems with our infrastructure took decades to create. It’s going to take some time to get (the roads) back in good condition,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a West Olive Republican, said it was “disingenuous” for Democrats to complain about funding when they opposed the 2015 plan.

While signing a tax cut on Wednesday, the GOP governor defended the 2015 laws that were backed at the time by Republican legislators but criticized by Democrats as inadequate.

“That was a major accomplishment,” Snyder said, saying that such a plan only happens every 20 years. “We’re making progress there. I just wish we didn’t have the freezing-thaw cycle we did this year. This has been a particularly tough year.”

Months after the 2015 laws were enacted, an infrastructure commission appointed by the governor said the additional spending “would not be enough to revive and sustain the condition of Michigan’s roads, bridges, and transit over the long term, let alone prepare Michigan for the 21st century.” The report also warned that without more investment, road and bridge conditions would continue to deteriorate. It called for another $2.2 billion to be allocated each year.

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