Whitmer to propose $1 billion boost to transportation budget

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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will propose a $1 billion, or nearly 20%, boost to Michigan’s transportation budget to repair roads and increase spending on transit and other programs.

The $6.3 billion plan the governor will present to lawmakers Wednesday includes nearly $378 million in new road and bridge funding from the federal infrastructure law. Three-quarters would go to state roads and bridges — I-, U.S.- and M-numbered routes — and one-quarter to local roads and bridges.

Whitmer’s proposal will include a call for augmenting the current $5.3 billion transportation budget with general funds. It also will factor in a nearly 1-cent-per-gallon inflationary fuel tax hike that took effect last month under a 2015 law.

The governor said Michigan has made “huge progress” repairing, rebuilding or replacing roads and bridges, “but there’s still so much more to do.”

Whitmer, who is up for reelection, made fixing the roads a major plank of her 2018 campaign. After the Republican-led Legislature rejected her proposal to significantly increase fuel taxes, the Democrat authorized $3.5 billion in borrowing to improve state-owned highways and bridges.

Whitmer will recommend including $66 million in the transportation budget to put reliable backup generators at 164 highway pumping stations, The Detroit News reported Monday. Detroit-area highways were shut down multiple times last summer due to flooding.

About $200 million in new federal infrastructure aid would bolster airport, transit and rail funding. Another $268 million in federal infrastructure dollars would be used to replace lead water pipes, upgrade water plants, improve sewage facilities and bolster energy-efficiency programs.

Key centerpieces of Whitmer’s overall budget include education and tax cuts amid surplus state revenues and billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid. The AP reported Sunday she will propose spending $2.3 billion over four years to recruit and retain teachers and other school staff, enticing them with annual $2,000 bonuses that would grow to $4,000 by 2025.

Her K-12 plan will include a $435, or 5%, increase in base per-pupil aid to districts and charter schools — lifting it to $9,135 — a big boost in extra funding that schools receive for at-risk kids and a higher reimbursement rate for special education costs.

Districts currently are supposed to get $1,000 more for each economically disadvantaged child, but most receive $768 and some only $269 due to insufficient funding. Under Whitmer’s proposal, all districts would get $1,050 for each at-risk student.

Whitmer also will propose continued funding for a planned multiyear expansion of the state’s free preschool program for low-income 4-year-olds.

She previously called for exempting retirement income from taxation, increasing a tax credit for low- and moderate-wage families, and creating a $2,500 state credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle and charging equipment.

GOP legislators said they favor broader relief such as an income tax reduction.

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