Governor Gretchen Whitmer ran on the promise to “fix the damn roads.” The Michigan House of Representatives is attempting to do just that with its proposed transportation budget for the next fiscal year.
The proposed budget passed on a party-line vote of 57-52, with Republicans supporting the plan and Democrats opposing it. The budget rejects Whitmer’s proposed gas tax increase of forty-five cents, and includes an amendment requiring the department of transportation to conduct an in-depth analysis on how toll roads might be implemented around the state.
Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) is the representative who proposed the amendment. She notes that the state looked into the possibility of toll roads in the past, but believes a more current study could yield different results.
“We haven’t had any current-day reviews and analysis of the process, the timeline, the opportunities that might be presented, and the revenue that might be generated," she said. "This [amendment] would require the department to take a deep dive, to do a more in-depth analysis.”
She notes that she’s had constituents ask about toll roads in the past, saying, “I think as a policymaker, we have an obligation to look into policy solutions suggested by those we represent.”
Michigan studied the idea of creating toll roads in 1951, but ultimately the roads ended up becoming I-75 and I-94, both of which are federally funded interstates, and therefore prohibited from being converted into toll roads.
Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) voted against the budget. He says that the proposals in the budget are one-time fixes, and that Whitmer’s proposed gas tax would be a much more sustainable way of funding infrastructure.
“The proposal, with the addition of whatever we might reap from a garage sale of state assets, is supposed to produce approximately $800 million," he said. "We don’t know if that’s a solid number or not, what we do know is that anything we would get from a garage sale would be a one-time infusion of cash, which falls significantly short of what we need to fix the damn roads.”
He also says that the gas tax would generate the yearly income needed to fix the roads.
“I understand the predicament that my friends on the other side of the aisle are in. They have run state government completely for eight straight years, and they were not able to come up with the money to fix our roads," Elder said. "It isn’t because they were stupid, it wasn’t because they were lazy, it’s because there is no existing money to actually fix the roads. The only way to fix the problem is to have dedicated, new revenue, every single year.”
The budget will need to go through the state senate and a conference committee before it goes to the governor for approval.
An earlier version of this story referenced a proposal to cut funding to the Gordie Howe International Bridge. That language was stripped from the final bill that emerged from the state House.