Time is right-but running out-for transportation funding deal
Michigan's legislature has one week left before the summer recess. With the Detroit aid package finalized and a budget agreement shaping up, lawmakers face just one major hurdle before they head home to reconnect with their constituents.
Doubt is growing in Lansing about whether legislators can agree on a transportation funding package before the break. While they could take the issue back up in the fall, we believe the leadership in the Capitol must hammer out a deal immediately.
Here are a few reasons they need to get it done now:
Their constituents demand it. We get it: voting for a tax increase is always tricky, especially in an election year. But Michigan's potholes are so wheel-bendingly bad that drivers already are shelling out big bucks anyway - to guys named Belle and Tuffy. At this point, Michigan voters care more about fixing our roads than job growth, the economy or any other issue. Twice as many voters put roads at the top of their list than those who say reining in government spending is the number-one priority. The momentum is there; let's use it.
The economy needs it. The Snyder administration has put a lot of effort into attracting foreign firms to do business in Michigan, but shoddy infrastructure is a big deterrent to those investments. (It's also embarrassing and ironic in the world's automotive capital.) As an economic development executive recently told Bridge Magazine, "When we have a prospect visiting here, it's hard to find good roads to drive them to the site." The same goes for tourists. As Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley told Bridge, we lure visitors with the Pure Michigan campaign, "And then we put them on third-world quality roads." On top of that, a 2012 study by the Chamber found that a $1.4 billion annual investment in fixing Michigan's roads would increase employment in the state by 11,000 jobs.
The weather permits it. Sorry to say it, folks, but winter will come again. The next few months offer a shrinking window to start making progress on our roads. By passing the transportation bills now, the legislature can take advantage of the current construction season and begin to make a dent in the backlog of repairs and upgrades. If they break for the summer without approving the funding package, the to-do list will only grow.
All of that said, it's not enough for the legislature to get the funding package done quickly. It also needs to be done right. As we've written here previously, that means running the funding through the full, traditional transportation funding formula known as Act 51.
Good roads are essential for anyone who drives, bikes or rides the bus, but they're only one piece of the transportation puzzle. Put through the full Act 51 formula, the new funding will support Michigan's entire transportation system, marking the state's first structural increase in funding for public transportation since 1987.
In 1997, when lawmakers last increased transportation funding, they made the costly mistake of funneling all of it to roads. As a result, Michigan's Comprehensive Transportation Fund (CTF) has missed out on $259 million.
That's a big deal, because the CTF supports, among other things, both freight and passenger rail. Freight railways are vital to Michigan's $96 billion agricultural economy, while passenger rail lines create $62 million in community benefits for towns they pass through. Michigan's passenger trains have seen a 78% rise in ridership since 2002.
The CTF also funds Michigan's 78 public transit agencies, which last year provided more than 260,000 rides per day, providing a vital lifeline for people-both in urban and rural communities-who rely on them to get around. Solid public transit also is crucial for attracting the young workers who put it atop their list of must-have amenities. On top of that, every $10 million invested in public transit yields $30 million in business activity.
Using the full Act 51 formula also will fund the Department of Natural Resources Recreation Improvement Fund, which benefits the waterways that each year move more than 200 million tons of cargo, supporting 65,000 Michigan shipping and storage jobs. The fund also supports the harbors, marinas and public boat launches that pump $3.6 billion into the state economy annually and are responsible for 50,000 jobs.
In other words, passing a comprehensive transportation funding package now is hugely important for Michigan's economy and quality of life.
The time is right, but it's running out. Lawmakers, please get this deal done.
Photo courtesy Deborah Fitchett via Flickr.