Well, in the last couple of weeks, we have seen lots of actions on the political front as both Congress and the Michigan Legislature have been busy introducing various transportation initiatives. But are they for show or for go? Let’s look at them one at a time.
At the federal level, both the House and the Senate are working on separate and very different transportation bills. The Senate has proposed a two-year bill at roughly the same funding levels as we have now. It consolidates and eliminates various federal funding categories and gives a bit more flexibility to the states at the expense of local elected officials.
The House counter bill is a five-year bill with a bit less per year than the Senate bill. It also consolidates and eliminates lots of federal funding categories and gives the states lots more flexibility at the expense of local elected officials. In addition, the House bill takes the transit program out of the trust fund and makes it beg for general fund dollars every year after a $40 billion one-time funding amount is exhausted. This has raised the ire of Democrats and Republicans. Neither bill includes new revenues – just making us live with the same inadequate funding for either two or five more years!
The deadline for action is the end of March. Both bodies have to approve their own bills, be sure they can pay for them (a huge issue, especially in the House), establish a conference committee, work out their differences, and have the President sign in about five weeks. Or pass another extension. My money is on another extension through the election.
On the state side, the legislature has introduced a number of bills that implement Governor Snyder’s transportation message from last year. The bills, if approved as introduced, will effectively change the transportation landscape as we know it – it blows it up completely. They change the funding mechanism, the funding distribution, the documentation requirements, mandate efficiencies, and create a regional transit authority in Southeast Michigan. Unlike the federal bills, the state package includes several provisions for additional funds both at the state level and through proposed new local option opportunities. Several bills are moving and one bill– to give county board of commissioners the option of taking over their road commissions, has already passed.
The Michigan Legislature and the Governor have shown great courage and intelligence in finally proposing a package that includes both reforms and additional funding. Not every proposal is going to fly, of course. Look for the bills that promote efficiencies and the transit authority bills to move first and the bills that include additional revenue to move later, but hopefully still move. I hope we discuss and debate these bills, but at the end of the day agree on both the amount (has to be large) and the source of additional revenues if we are to improve our transportation infrastructure.
The Michigan Legislature and the Governor get it – the Congress does not.
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