LANSING - Gov. Rick Snyder was preparing to ask legislators for billions of dollars to repair Michigan's pothole-riddled roads and aging bridges, a politically delicate task made even tougher by Republicans' aversion to higher taxes and Democrats' bitterness over last month's contentious lame-duck session.
Transportation infrastructure funding is expected to be among the top priorities in Snyder's annual State of the State address tonight. Even with GOP majorities in both chambers, the Republican governor failed last year to get a new infusion of money - and the task is likely to remain challenging despite widespread agreement that improvements are desperately needed.
Raising motor fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, the two primary sources of road budgets, is never popular. Snyder and the entire Legislature are up for re-election in 2014. Even so, advocates for road and bridge improvements say the problem can't be put off any longer.
"Even with the anti-tax environment, there seems to be support by the general public - if they know what their tax dollars are being used for and they can see the potential for improvements to the system, they'll support those increases," said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, a construction trade group.
Snyder told The Associated Press on Tuesday his proposal will deal with raising additional revenue as well as how the money is distributed. Without providing details, he said he would make the case that generating cash needed for transportation infrastructure is a long-term investment.
"What we're going to propose is actually a way to save money in my view," he said. "It does cost more dollars but if you look at over a 10- or 20-year timeframe it actually reduces our cost compared to not doing something."
State Sen. Roger Kahn, a Saginaw Republican, said he would introduce bills offering a number of options, including boosting taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel and registration fees. Another possibility is boosting the state sales tax and using funds from the increase to pay for roads and bridges, which could be coupled with elimination of the fuel tax, he said.
Union members, meanwhile, still upset over Michigan's contentious right-to-work law signed last month are planning to protest outside the Capitol.
Union officials said the right-to-work law, which prohibits requirements that workers pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, is designed to cripple their collective bargaining power.
Snyder and the GOP have promised the law, which will make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state, will create jobs, said Edward McNeil, a spokesman for American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 25. The reality is the law will drive down wages and further elevate Michigan's poverty rate, he said.
"The middle class and alike will continue to fall farther behind," McNeil told the Associated Press.
The United Auto Workers and other labor groups are also planning to protest outside the Capitol.
In an announcement before tonight's protest, the UAW said Snyder will use his address "to justify policies that hurt the middle class." The UAW is calling on members to bring friends, neighbors, co-workers and kids to the protest to "send the message that we can't trust Gov. Snyder to tell it like it is for working families."
"That is part of democracy, so I appreciate that," Snyder told Mlive.com Monday when asked about the protests. "I know we've gone through some tough issues, I just hope we can do it in a respectful fashion."
Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub in Detroit contributed to this report