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Gongwer News: Senate to Shift Focus to Transportation Funding Through Lame Duck

Monday, September 10, 2012   (0 Comments)
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The Senate will handle lower-profile issues in its upcoming September session, but the big item potentially on deck is how a committee of three senators addresses funding the state's transportation needs.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) on Friday said he has narrowed a special committee on transportation funding down to three senators - Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw Township), Sen. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) and Sen. Rebakah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) - who will closely examine how the state is currently spending its money before appropriating new funds.

"The governor, the speaker and I have some real concerns about the infrastructure in this state," Mr. Richardville said. "The governor had a proposal that was supposed to be a starting point of discussion, and while I understand where he's coming from, I don't agree with a lot of what he's put on the table."

Mike Nystrom, executive vice president for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, was cautiously optimistic about the committee, but said the appointments showed true leadership by the majority leader to move a long-standing issue forward.

"We're looking at this as finally seeing leadership on the issue," Mr. Nystrom said. "To have the majority leader name this committee shows that he is willing to step forward with this governor ... and find a resolution finally."

Indeed, the road funding issue has been one of the biggest disappointments of Mr. Snyder's more than 19 months in office. Last fall, he proposed a sweeping plan to raise $1.4 billion in new revenue for roads. The plan was for the House to take the lead on it, but the proposal landed with a thud after the conservative Republican majority balked at its proposed revision to the gasoline tax and its vehicle registration fee hike. In May, Mr. Snyder acknowledged the heavy opposition when he said the issue would wait until 2013.

But now Mr. Richardville has given the issue a little new life.

"We feel it's a great committee," Mr. Nystrom said. "The committee members recognize the need and have already proven themselves to be leaders on transportation issues."

Mr. Nystrom said he thought a closer examination of how funds are currently being spent was a good idea.

"The efficiencies that have been put in place need to be highlighted because there have been many at the state and local level," he said. "Taxpayers need to know their money is being spent efficiently and effectively."

Mr. Nystrom said that once the public understands where its money is being spent and that it's being spent appropriately, it may be more inclined to support increasing funding, should that be necessary. He said more than 85 percent of local millages passed in the August primary because of this kind of knowledge, and so its application at the state level is equally as important.

Mr. Kahn, who is hoping to have the first public hearing on the matter in the next two weeks, also agreed with the direction from the majority leader.

"There needs to be a demonstration we have efficiently and appropriately used the dollars we have," Mr. Kahn said. "When we're sure we've appropriately used the dollars we have for transportation issues and defined the problem, then and only then will we be prepared to discuss further funding."

But a lingering question for those involved concerns Proposal 12-5, which would require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature or a statewide vote to increase taxes, if voters approve of it in November. Both Mr. Kahn and Mr. Nystrom said the concern had crossed their mind but neither had delved too far into the issue just yet.

"I haven't looked at it at every level," Mr. Nystrom said. "It could have an impact on us, and we anticipate that it will."

Mr. Nystrom cited concerns with having to raise the gas tax, how local millages could be affected, vehicle registration fees and other aspects of transportation funding. He said the association is currently looking into such issues and how that particular proposal would or would not affect its efforts.

Mr. Kahn said he was opposed to the proposal in that it "might speed up lots of things, with the move to pass a series of taxes or fundraising efforts before the end of the year." Should the proposal pass, it would take effect 45 days later.

"I'm not much in favor of doing something that is a work-around to the will of the people, but that's really not my role here," Mr. Kahn said. "My role on this committee is to get this information that the majority leader wishes to have and get it as thoroughly as I can and the funding decisions will be made by others (the majority leader, speaker and governor)."

Mr. Kahn and Mr. Richardville said they did not expect the issue to be resolved before lame duck. That also is the case for most lingering legislation such as the overhaul of the personal property tax, Mr. Richardville said.

"We had a retreat a couple weeks ago and what we talked about is what the fall calendar would look like. My challenge to the team was to do as much prep work as you can before we get close to lame duck," Mr. Richardville said. "What we're trying to do with the limited number of days is to make sure we maximize our time the best we can."

He said there is still some disagreement between the Senate and the House on how to go forward with the personal property tax bills. Come November, the Legislature will also be anxiously awaiting a study on moving new teacher hires into a defined contribution system as part of SB1040. He also expects to address bills regarding no-fault insurance and, of course, transportation funding. Both the personal property tax and no-fault legislation have long been pending in the House.

"We'll be talking about all these things before the election and through the election but we probably won't be dealing with them until we get to lame duck," he said. "I told the members, if you've got an issue that's important to you, start working on it now. It'll be too late once the train leaves the station."

Meanwhile, in the House, House Republican spokesperson Ari Adler said chamber leaders have not made a final decision on what bills would be taken up next week and later in the month.

"There are things that need to be done and things that we are looking to do," Mr. Adler said, but could not provide any specifics.

He said leaders often have conversation with the Senate and the administration about potential legislation, but nothing has been firmed up so far.

The House committees that have noticed meetings for next week are also fairly light. The House Redistricting and Elections Committee plans to vote on HB 5219 which would limit local units of government from having a vote to increase local revenue once every two years.

The bill, sponsored by Rep Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), had one hearing back in January, where both Democrat and Republican committee members expressed concerns. It would amend the general property tax act so that these requests for additional revenue could only appear on the November ballot of an even-numbered year. The idea being that more voters would be aware of the proposal and it would avoid "stealth elections."

The only thing for sure that is scheduled for Tuesday's session is a 9/11 ceremony. Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the House commemorated Michigan residents who lost their lives that day and honored first responders.

It also featured a keynote address by Patrick Anderson, head of the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group and a World Trade Center survivor.

This year, Mr. Adler said the ceremony will focus more on honoring first responders in Michigan for their service to the state and their communities.

Mr. Snyder, after an event Friday in DeWitt, said he would like to see the Legislature act on regulatory reforms recommended by his administration.

"There are a number of bills being introduced that really make Michigan a better environment for all of us to be successful while still protecting our citizens in an appropriate fashion," he said.

He also held out hope for some action on the personal property tax after the election.