Majority Republicans in the Senate defeated a bill Tuesday that would halve Michigan's highest-in-the-country limits on truck weight, rejecting arguments that the move would help keep roads from getting worse.
Leaders called the vote at the request of some Democrats who recently helped pass a significant increase in state gasoline and diesel taxes to raise an estimated $858 million to $1.7 billion more a year in funding for roads, bridges and public transit. The Senate-passed tax increase is pending in the GOP-led House, where its future is uncertain in the closing days of a two-year legislative session.
"It is outrageous that we are not in line with ... other states," said Sen. Coleman Young II, a Detroit Democrat, who said the trucking lobby should sacrifice if drivers will have to pay more at the pump. "Overweight trucks do more damage to Michigan roads than your average passenger cars."
The legislation, defeated 22-15, would set the maximum vehicle weight at 80,000 pounds in line with federal standards, below the current 164,000-pound limit.
Many Republicans echoed the state Transportation Department's contention that heavier trucks don't do more damage to highways and streets as long as their loads are evenly distributed over an appropriate number of axles.
Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican whose family owns a log trucking business, opposed the bill by saying trucks that weigh 80,000 pounds typically carry 16,000 pounds per axle as opposed to bigger rigs that haul 14,000 to 15,000 pounds an axle.
"You can have two 80,000-pound trucks running together down the highway at 60 miles per hour or you can have a double bottom that's split — two units, a hitch pulling the other one — with less weight per axle ... but somehow, emotionally I guess, the roads are in worse shape because of it," he said.
Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat and sponsor of the legislation, said less than 5 percent of trucks on Michigan roads weigh more than 80,000 pounds.
Twenty-two Republicans voted against the measure. It was supported by 12 Democrats and three Republicans: Jack Brandenburg of Macomb County's Harrison Township, Patrick Colbeck of Wayne County's Canton Township and Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights.
While lawmakers are at odds over truck weights, they are considering increased fines for vehicles that violate vehicle height, length and axle load limits. The House and Senate have passed similar versions of a bill that would set a maximum $500 fine, well above the $35 fine recommended for first-time violators of height and length rules.
They also have voted to double fines for overweight trucks. The bill, which would earmark a higher portion of fine revenue that now goes to libraries to transportation, could win final passage if legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder strike a broader transportation funding deal this month.
Fiscal analysts can't estimate how much additional money could be raised through higher truck fines.
Senate Bill 1150: http://1.usa.gov/1rVue2S
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