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Legislature begins debate over $500 million road funding plan

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A plan to boost state road spending by about half-a-billion dollars a year is taking shape. State lawmakers introduced four bills Thursday that are now part of the package.

Among other things, they would increase fines for overweight trucks and dedicate part of the state’s sales tax to roads. Other measures in the plan would change the state’s gasoline tax to assess the wholesale price of fuel instead of the amount of gallons pumped, require more and longer warrantees on road repairs to discourage short-term fixes, and dedicate money to roads from a tax assessed on out-of-state purchases.

The $500 million plan falls far short of the $1-2 billion a year most estimates say is needed to keep Michigan’s roads from crumbling further.

But state House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, says lawmakers can’t wait around and do nothing until there’s support for a more comprehensive solution.

“I hope we do exactly what our constituents have asked, and that is, stop talking and start doing,” Bolger told the House Transportation Committee Thursday while outlining the plan.

Some groups worry passing a smaller funding increase could make it harder for lawmakers to pass a more comprehensive plan later.

“It’s our biggest fear,” said Mike Nystrom with the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), which represents the construction industry, “that we do something small now, the Legislature washes their hands of the issue, the general public believes we’re going to fix our roads, and, in the end, it’s not enough to have a significant impact.”

Bolger says he understands that concern.

“It is a valid critique to say, is this enough or should there be more?” he said. “And if you want to propose more and where that would come from, I welcome that proposal. However, I believe what this does do is it sets that solid foundation from which we can build upon.”

Despite the concern, Nystrom says MITA supports many parts of the plan. He says it’s a good starting point for discussions.