Senator Cropsey’s statement is as follows:
I will reluctantly support this budget. Once again, the MDOT budget is the caboose on the budget train, all because the department waited until the last minute to claim the sky is falling on the DRIC issue. MDOT ignored the Legislature in 2006 and started a $40 million study on a bridge that we said we did not want; $40 million has been spent on a mega-project study which has failed to justify spending billions of tax dollars on a bridge that would take resources from road projects all over Michigan.
This budget curbs MDOT’s excesses. We stop the department from entering into any new contracts on DRIC. Only contracts in place before September, can be paid. MDOT must fulfill its contractual obligations and avoid liability and ill-will with vendors, but no new aspects of DRIC can be initiated. In other words, MDOT cannot spend any more than $250,000 through the end of this year, at which time, a new administration will thankfully take over. The conference report is crystal clear; wrap it up, MDOT. Since the department is required to report all spending on DRIC by March 31, we’ll see just how much taxpayer money this administration has wasted on this boondoggle.
Unfortunately, in last year’s budget, MDOT misinterpreted the budget language, and that is being charitable. Before the ink was dry on the budget, an MDOT spokesman was quoted in the Windsor Star as saying that the limited funds for an investment grade traffic study would allow MDOT to match federal funds and spend a whole lot more. I want to be clear. That is not what the conference committee is adopting in this report. MDOT is limited to spending no more that $250,000 each quarter through May 2011 and only from transportation resources available to the state in this budget.
In the last budget, MDOT agreed to do an investment grade traffic study. We gave them millions in tax dollars to do it. When we finally received the report—late, by the way—the authors of the report acknowledged that it was not an investment grade study. Instead, it was an overly-optimistic traffic projection by the same consultants who predicted traffic that never materialized on the bankrupt South Bay Expressway and the bankrupt North Carolina Connector.
MDOT failed to give us the report in May, just as they failed to provide a bill that would have allowed an up-or-down vote on DRIC. Instead, MDOT tried to shove through legislation that was a bold power grab. It was legislation that would give up our Michigan sovereignty to a foreign government and leave Michigan taxpayers on the hook.
Under this conference report, MDOT’s credit card has been revoked. They can only spend for pre-existing contracts. MDOT cannot approve multi million-dollar DRIC contracts late in this budget year as they did in 2006. They cannot sneak through contract extensions before the State Administrative Board like they did last year. This budget only provides funds to complete current contracts—no new spending, no new project components, no new permits, and no new shenanigans. So unless the Legislature specifically votes on enabling legislation, MDOT cannot drag taxpayers further into the DRIC quagmire.
MDOT must follow through on existing contract commitments only, which is consistent with our philosophy of making our state one in which businesses can rely on for its agreements. MDOT should be consistent with such agreements, and MDOT should not delay the completion of existing projects like the Gateway project in Detroit. Last Friday, I was embarrassed by the department when members of the Council of State Governments saw the Gateway project. What they saw was highway ramps that have been completed for more than a year, for which taxpayers have paid dearly, but blocked by MDOT concrete barricades. That is shameful. MDOT needs to fulfill its commitments on this project and finish what it started, and stop delaying international and interstate commerce. MDOT, take down those barricades.
On a positive note, MDOT is to use toll credits generated by private transportation facilities so Michigan can obtain its federal transportation funds. After years of ignoring and minimizing these toll credits, the conference report is telling MDOT to use those toll credits instead of bonding or raiding other budgets. The department should make the most of this opportunity, and work with those private transportation facilities for the benefit of Michigan taxpayers, so we can fully utilize federal road funds all over this state, and put our construction companies to work.