By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — The issue that brought farmers together in 1919 to form Michigan’s largest farm organization – infrastructure – was one of many topics that brought more than 400 farmers together again in Lansing Feb. 13 to talk with state lawmakers.
Representatives from county Farm Bureaus converged at the Lansing Center for Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) annual Lansing Legislative Seminar to meet with state senators, representatives and staffers, putting the grassroots of the state’s second largest industry in direct contact with lawmakers.
Alongside peers representing a variety of Michigan’s diverse agricultural economy, these producers discussed issues including transportation and infrastructure, along with regulations and workforce development.
State Sen. Judy Emmons (R-District 33) and Rep. Rick Outman (R-District 70) said they valued the opportunity to hear from farmers during this gathering. Both are connected to agriculture – Emmons and her husband own and operate a dairy farm near Sheridan, while Outman and his family own and operate an excavation business near Six Lakes.
They agreed transportation and infrastructure are top priorities. Michigan has approximately 120,000 miles of roads to maintain, between state and local jurisdictions. Currently, revenue from motor fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees are dedicated to road and bridge construction and maintenance.
In his budget proposal, Gov. Rick Snyder is addressing the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure, with $119 million in general fund revenues to ensure the full match of all federal highway and transit aid available in fiscal year 2013. This is the largest general fund amount ever included in the transportation budget.
“The transportation issue in the Governor’s budget proposal is out there, and I think that he has laid out something that is pretty dramatic,” Emmons said. “I believe the work will begin to look at alternatives. We will probably dissect what his proposal is in the budget and how we actually can fund roads in Michigan. There’s not one way to do it.”
She said roads could be funded through a gas tax, sales tax, bonding or other funding sources, and she believes there will be “due diligence” while considering the road funding equation.
“I think there will be a lot of input from all the folks who are affected. That’s every taxpayer in Michigan, and especially folks who move products along our roadways,” she explained.
Outman said addressing the issue is overdue and he appreciates the governor’s commitment to the subject.
“This is something pretty near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I actually do excavating. I’ve built roads, and I’ve done a lot of work for the road commission over the years. We are in crisis mode. Where we live, we are turning roads back to gravel because we have to.”
MFB policy supports efforts to reform spending on roads and bridges. It calls for: user taxes when new revenue is needed for roads and bridges; a system that allows for indexing of the fuel tax rate; increases in registration fees; diverting state sales tax collected on motor fuels to provide additional road funding; and taxing other forms of energy that are used in transportation at an equitable rate, such as electricity used to power electric cars.
Lansing legislative participants also heard from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who addressed them during a luncheon and shared his appreciation for their work. Also during the luncheon, participants heard a panel discussion including Randy Richardville, Michigan Senate Majority Leader; Jase Bolger, Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives; and Bill Rustem, strategy director for Snyder.