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LASATA: Governor’s budget plan ignores local roads

Last week, the governor’s budget director addressed a joint hearing of the Senate and House appropriations committees to unveil the administration’s recommended budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and as chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on universities and community colleges, I attended the hearing. The governor’s presentation is the first step in the annual budget process, and I will be working closely with my colleagues as we begin to go over the governor’s proposal and determine how it fits with Senate priorities, including roads and infrastructure, K-12 and higher education, and protecting our natural resources.

However, I am concerned about the governor’s plan for our roads. Her recent action to begin the process of bonding to borrow money for road projects is misguided and won’t come without significant costs in the form of long-term debt payments. It is estimated that the $3.5 billion in bonds the governor is pursuing will end up costing our state more than $5 billion. It is worth mentioning that former governors Engler and Granholm bonded for roads during their terms, and we are still paying millions every year for those decades-old decisions — and the roads are still terrible.

If that isn’t bad enough, perhaps worse is the fact that this borrowed money cannot be used for local roads. The money is restricted only for interstates, U.S. highways and “M” designated roads. On top of that, the governor’s budget proposal does not include any plan for local road funding. Though we can’t stop the governor’s bonding maneuver, I am hopeful we will be able to approve a real, long-term roads plan. 

Despite our differences, we have an opportunity to put the past behind us and work together. I look forward to the budget process and hope we can overcome the challenges of last year to produce a budget that is fair, balanced and on time.