Michigan governor calls for $1 billion per year to fix roads

Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:04pm EST

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Jan 16 (Reuters) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on Wednesday called on state lawmakers to work together this year, particularly on an ambitious plan to raise more than $1 billion per year to repair the state's crumbling roads.

The Republican governor acknowledged in his state of the state address that there were some bad feelings left over from the Republican-controlled legislature's push late last year to approve a flurry of controversial bills, including a law that made Michigan, home to the U.S. auto industry and birthplace of the United Auto Workers union, the 24th right-to-work state.

"At the end of the year we had a difficult time. We had a divisive period and that's unfortunate and I wish it wouldn't happen," Snyder said, without referring to any specific bill that angered Democrats.

Despite the controversy, Snyder's popularity was up slightly from December to 50 percent, showed a poll released this week, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The same poll by Mitchell Research and Communications, a Republican polling firm, showed 50 percent support for the new right-to-work law, which prohibits most unions in the state's public and private sectors from requiring workers to join or to pay dues.

Snyder did not mention another controversial topic - cash-strapped Detroit. Michigan's largest city could be headed to bankruptcy court if the governor chooses to appoint an emergency financial manager who could ultimately recommend that move.

Snyder had more to say about Michigan roads, contending the state is short about $1.2 billion a year to fix them. His plan would be to raise the money by shifting from a per gallon gas tax to a tax at the wholesale level for gasoline, increasing certain vehicle registration fees and allowing optional registration fees for local governments.

Over a 10-year period, the state could spend more than $10 billion improving the roads, an actual savings of about $15 billion given the cost of doing nothing between now and then, Snyder said.

Snyder also used the speech to crow about Michigan's improving budget. The state's rainy day fund has grown to over $500 million from just $2 million in 2010, he said.

Democrats said in a response that Snyder was focused on doing what would be best for corporations and not families.

"It's frustrating to hear the governor talk about bipartisanship while completely ignoring the issues that should be uniting us," Senator Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate minority leader, said in a statement.

"The people of Michigan want to hear an agenda that will create jobs and reinvest in our local schools so that our kids will have the opportunities of tomorrow," Whitmer said.

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