Governor’s plan would spend $1 billion per year on infrastructure improvements, saving $15 billion over 10 years

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder is asking Democrats and Republicans to work together to fix Michigan’s infrastructure, emphasizing that no one is satisfied with the state’s current road system. In his State of the State address last Wednesday from the Capitol, Snyder called for higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise an extra $1.2 billion a year. He asked the Legislature to “redo (Michigan’s) road distribution formula on both ends of the equation,” both in terms of resources coming in and how the state uses those dollars. “(Roads) is the toughest single issue before us, but I hope we’re going to get it done,” Snyder said. “I’ve done hundreds of town halls in Michigan, and I’ve asked the question, ‘Does anyone like our roads?’ I’ve not seen any hands go up. It’s time to do something. We need to invest more in our roads and, to put in it in a simple sense, it’s time.” Snyder said that about $1 billion dollars needs to be spent each year on roads over the next decade. In doing so, he estimates that Michigan will save roughly $15 billion over that time period. “This is not about costing us money, this is about saving us money and building for the future,” Snyder said. “If we didn’t spend that $1 billion a year (on roads), (Michigan) would spend in the range of $25 billion a year. This is just like the question of do you get oil changes on a regular basis or do you wait for an engine rebuild? By investing that money on a consistent basis over the next 10 years, it will save us more than $15 billion. That’s gigantic.” Snyder tried to sell the need for increased road funding as a way to protect existing assets against further deterioration rather than as a tax increase, saying the state will have to pay more in the future if it doesn’t raise extra road money now. Early in 2012, lawmakers introduced a proposal to abolish the state’s 19-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax and 15-cent-a-gallon diesel tax and replace them with a 10.1 percent wholesale tax on both. Based on the current wholesale price of about $2.55 a gallon, such a move would produce a tax of about 25.7 cents a gallon and generate close to $500 million a year, with state revenues rising along with the price of gas. State vehicle registration fees are calculated through a somewhat complicated formula based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, with certain reductions for used vehicles. A new 2013 vehicle with a suggested retail price of $25,000 would generate a registration fee of $123, Michigan Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said. Hiking the registration fee by about $60 per car or light truck on average would generate as much as $600 million a year, officials said. Snyder also claims that investing in Michigan’s infrastructure will create about 12,000 jobs. The improved roads will provide better driving conditions that can potentially save lives by reducing the number of accidents, he added. “If we do this, we’ve done some work to say that we would save nearly 100 lives per year (in terms of the number of auto accidents) each year. There’s no price you can put on that. This is an opportunity to do the right thing,” Snyder said. Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, supports Snyder’s proposal to improve the infrastructure, but was vague on whether he endorsed the way the governor wants to make it happen. “When we talk about infrastructure, you can’t grow an economy without it. You can’t ask businesses to come in with out it,” Booher said. “How we’re going (to fund Snyder’s proposal) is something we’re going to be open-minded about. None of us like potholes, but we know the economy lies within our infrastructure. I don’t know if that’s the answer yet. We’ve recognized the problem, but how we’re going to get there is the open debate and discussion we need to have.” In a televised response following Snyder’s address, Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing, supported his proposal to improve the state’s infrastructure, noting that it would foster business growth. “We can and must work in a bi-partisan fashion to create a true investment in our state’s infrastructure, because there’s not a company in the world that’s going to invest in Michigan if we aren’t willing to invest in the roads, bridges and rail systems that make doing business here possible,” Whitmer said. “There are no easy fixes to Michigan’s problems, but it is our job as elected officials to roll up our sleeves and to challenge ourselves to find them.” Although she supported the infrastructure improvement proposal, Whitmer criticized Snyder for favoring businesses over supporting Michigan schools and higher education. “Our class sizes have soared as more than $1.8 billion was taken out of our K-12 schools just so the governor could hand that money over to corporations. All this was done without a single promise of a single job or $1 of new investment being brought into our state,” Whitmer said. “What has Gov. Snyder gotten us? Our unemployment goes up, while our paychecks go down. Those at the top get richer, while far too many of us are simply left behind.” Snyder announced support for early childhood education, noting that about 29,000 children are eligible for such programs. He encouraged the Legislature to look for ideas to make sure they all can be enrolled. “I don’t believe we can accomplish all of that, and I am open to coming up with creative ideas to get there,” Snyder. “It’s important that we make a major budget commitment to get all those kids in a great start or early childhood program.” He also called for support on improving skilled trade training, noting a large availability of such jobs across the state. Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, supported Snyder’s calling for improved skilled-trade training centers, such as the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center. “We’ve tightened our belts and now we’re moving forward conservatively, because we know our dollars have been flat,” Potvin said. “I’m really encouraged about expanding our ISD possibilities and career tech centers. It’s important to give those skills to our kids who don’t go on to college.” Also in his address, Snyder called for mental health reform, increasing support for veteran’s programs, adding more Michigan State Police troopers patrolling state highways and regulatory reform, among others. In closing, Snyder asked both Democrats and Republicans to look at the “big picture” and do what’s right for Michigan. He highlighted a chart in his office that states Michigan accounted for 5.25 percent of the U.S. economy in 1965, and has steadily declined for 44 years until 2009, where it bottomed out below 2.5 percent. It has slowly started to rise, he added. “Our role in the national economy reduced by more than half in those years. We’ve started to come up again in the past two or three years. I don’t intend to see us go back down again,” Snyder said. “(We need to make a) commitment to have 44 years of going up now. That requires hard work, and that is not an easy thing to do. “The greatest challenge to make that happen, is not any piece of legislation I’ve mentioned or the great reforms we’ve already done. The greatest challenge in doing that is really simple, we just need to look in the mirror: It’s us. ... This is a special privilege to be in an elected office and a servant of our citizens.”