November 22, 2014

Road commission to ‘wait and see’ on additional road repair funds

7/19/13

ARENAC COUNTY — Lansing is considering several methods of bringing in more money for roadwork across the state, but Arenac County Road Commission Superintendent Blair Dyer does not expect to see extra funds in the county anytime soon.

Dyer said he would like to see additional funds come in from the state to repair and maintain roads in Arenac County, but is skeptical whether the money will find its way here.

“I’ve been at this enough years that I’ll just wait and see,” he said. “I do know we need to do something with infrastructure, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Rep. Joel Johnson (R-Clare) said at an Arenac County commissioners meeting July 2 that legislators are looking at using $385 million in unexpected tax revenues and budget cuts to fund roadwork for the upcoming budget year, though the budget has not yet been finalized. The funds are also a one-time occurrence, not an ongoing source of money for the roads.

The state legislature has been discussing ways of bringing in more money for the state’s roads since Gov. Rick Snyder’s state of the state address in January. The proposals being floated in the legislature include raising vehicle registration fees and the fuel tax, as Snyder originally proposed in his address, or increasing the state sales tax to 7 percent. The 1-percent increase would bring in an estimated $1 billion for roads.

Even if additional revenue for roadwork is approved for this year’s budget or ongoing into the future, Dyer said distribution is also an important factor to consider.

“It does depend on how we distribute that money too, how much goes to (the Michigan Department of Transportation) for state roads, and how much comes to Arenac County,” he said. “The trickle effect may see a slight increase, but it could be very little.”

Dyer said something needs to happen, adding that the state has risked losing out on federal transportation matching money. Dyer said MDOT needs to supply 20 percent of an eligible project’s cost to receive 80 percent of the total cost from the federal gas tax fund.

According to information from the County Road Association of Michigan, if MDOT or a county road commission is unable to shore up the 20 percent, then that federal money will be pulled and distributed to other states. The legislature has needed to pass special appropriations for the past few years so MDOT has the required funding levels for the matching grants.

Dyer said currently, the 6-percent sales tax from gas sales raises more money than the fuel tax, and goes into the state’s general fund, and is not earmarked for transportation like the fuel tax is.

“The sales tax on gasoline raises quite a bit of money — when gas is around $4 (a gallon), 24 cents is going to the state,” Dyer said. “The road tax has been 19 cents since 1998, and that hasn’t changed even when gasoline prices have gone up to $4. We still get 19 cents, and get it if its $2 or $4.”

Johnson said July 2 he is personally opposed to any tax increases to help fund roadwork, but acknowledged that others in the state legislature may approve it regardless.

“I’m not for increasing road taxes and gas taxes. I’ve let my thoughts be known on that to the leadership,” Johnson said. “There are those that will still look at other ways and more ways to provide more road funding, but I’ll tell you how I placed it to Speaker of the House (Jase Bolger) when we talked about the budget for this coming year.

“We came up with $385 million in additional revenue for road funding out of the budget — it came from some extra funding that had been there last year and cuts in other places — and I told him, ‘I’d like to come up with more cuts.’ And he said, ‘I would too, but there’s not really much more we can come up with there.’ I said, ‘All you need to understand is that I’ll go along with this if you’re happy with the $385 million, because I won’t vote for additional taxes.”

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