Surplus may go to roads, school safety, debt

A truck maneuvers around potholes on Werner Street in Marquette. Some in state government believe a surplus in the state budget should be used to improve roads, among other things. (Journal file photo)

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and key legislative leaders said Wednesday they want to use hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue to boost savings, pay down debt and increase spending on roads and school safety.

The priorities were identified after the state treasurer and legislative economists agreed to revised budget figures.

Combined revenue in Michigan’s two main funds is projected to be $23.7 billion this fiscal year, $315 million more than was projected in January. General and school aid revenues are estimated to be nearly $24 billion in the next budget year, or $182 million more than expected.

The positive news gives the governor and lawmakers additional flexibility in finalizing a $56 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in October. They typically finish their work in early June.

Both Snyder’s budget director John Walsh and the Republican leaders of House and Senate budget committees were in sync on directing the windfall toward debt payments, the “rainy day” savings fund and roads and school security. Legislators previously endorsed spending between roughly $19 million and $27 million on grants to help some schools upgrade their security and to expand a statewide confidential tip line.

The proposed funding for security and road and bridge work could be increased by an undetermined amount.

“I think it’s really good that collectively, the three legs of the stool are kind of focused on … priorities that we want to prioritize,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Laura Cox, a Livonia Republican.

At least one conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, said the extra money means the state should cut its income tax.

But GOP leaders did not suggest that is an option nearly three months after the Republican governor signed tax relief that will gradually increase the personal income tax exemption.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat, said the additional general fund dollars should go to roads. Rep. Mike McCready, a Bloomfield Township Republican, also said roads should be a top priority.

“We made commitments to improve road funding back in 2015, and those commitments are kicking in now. But anyone who drives on Michigan roads can plainly see that commitment is not enough. We need more resources committed to road repairs, and that needs to happen right now,” he said.

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