Michigan bill would authorize tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Michigan House panel is meeting this week to discuss transportation funding options, including permission to tap public-private partnerships to help get road work done.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding hearings to discuss a 10-bill package that would eventually raise $500 million annually for fixing roads. The package includes four areas of focus: increased efficiency, improved quality, improved fairness and investing current resources from fuel sales back into roads.

Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, said it is long past time that lawmakers approved a long-term transportation funding plan.

“For decades, Michigan’s road funding has been a problem with no one willing to develop a long-term solution,” Lauwers said in prepared remarks. “There’s only been Band-Aids and one-time patches.”

One bill would authorize the state Department of Transportation to enter into public-private partnerships for the construction, operation and financing of roads and bridges. Specifically, tolls could be added to new lanes or a new highway for decades.

Rep. Rob Verheulen, R-Walker, said the state needs to look outside the box to help get needed work done.

“As we seek solutions to our transportation funding dilemmas, it is imperative that we explore all possible options available to improve our roads and bridges,” Verheulen stated.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the bill and has conveyed that sentiment to committee Chairman Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek contacted Schmidt this week on behalf of professional truckers and pointed out that toll taxes are financially crippling to small-business truckers.

“Toll taxes are not a substitute to the federal, state, fuel, vehicle registration, excise, and other taxes that truckers pay,” Matousek said. “If more revenue is needed, increasing the fuel tax is the most equitable and efficient option, so long as the generated revenue is used for its intended purpose.”

The Association also shared their concerns about the lack of transparency that would be permitted in the process.

Matousek said HB4925 doesn’t provide an avenue for community participation or public input. More importantly, he said it doesn’t require the state or private entity to take into consideration the views of people who would be most affected by a potential 50-year lease deal.

In addition, decision-making authority would rest in the hands of unelected officials without any legislative oversight.

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