LANSING (WWJ/AP) – It’s crunch time for Michigan lawmakers who are racing to generate at least $1.2 billion a year more to spend on road construction and other transportation infrastructure.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Monroe Republican, said meetings taking place Thursday are crucial because he wants a solution in “presentable form” this week before legislators return next week for the final days of the two-year session.READ MORE: Michigan Gov. Whitmer Tests Positive For COVID-19, Reports 'Mild Symptoms'
He and other legislative leaders met with Gov. Rick Snyder in the morning, though no significant progress was reported. They are scheduled to meet again in the afternoon.
Conference committees are expected to be named to consider competing road funding plans passed by the Republican-led House and Senate and any other possible revenue-generating proposals, but first a broader framework of a deal is desired.
Both chambers agree that Michigan should convert its flat gasoline and diesel taxes to taxes based on the wholesale price of fuel, to keep pace with construction costs. But they differ sharply on how to generate roughly $1.2 billion more per year in transportation funding, the minimum many advocates say is needed just to bring roads up to par.
The Senate voted last month to more than double Michigan’s 19-cents-a-gallon gas tax over four years, based on today’s wholesale prices. The House voted last week to not significantly raise taxes overall and instead repeal the 6 percent sales tax at the pump over six years and increase the gas tax by an equivalent amount.
Snyder, a Republican, opposes the House plan because it would redirect revenue to roads that mostly goes to schools and local governments. House Speaker Jase Bolger says the proposal would ensure K-12 districts and municipalities see no funding cuts between 2016 and 2021 or else the 6 percent sales tax on fuel would be reinstated.
Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall, suggested that the House and Senate meet somewhere in the middle.
“The speaker’s plan calls for zero dollars in new taxes,” he said. “The Senate plan calls for $1.2 billion in new taxes. … He is willing to go up from zero but he needs to know how far down they’re willing to come from $1.2 billion. It’s about compromise at this point.”
But Richardville said raising $1.2 billion is the minimum needed just to get state highways and roads back into decent condition, not including local streets.
“If you move below $1.2 (billion) very much, you start to not be able to do the things that you have to do this year and it continues to slip,” he said.READ MORE: Trump Says Mar-a-Lago Was 'Raided' By FBI
Richardville also cast doubt on a House bill that would add the sales tax to “transportation-reliant” services, such as courier and delivery services, and dedicate the additional revenue to transportation funding.
“That’ll be a difficult sell,” he said.
WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick said a breakthrough of sorts came during discussions Wednesday.
“The House Speaker, Jase Bolger, has broken his pledge to oppose tax increases and now he is on board, looking at all options and says he could go along with a tax increase if he gets something back from the Democrats,” Skubick said. “That’s a major breakthrough for the governor because he’s been trying for three years to raise taxes and Mr. Bolger has been an impediment… but just because the speaker is saying yes, doesn’t mean 56 members of the House and 20 of the Senate will follow his lead.”
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