Construction site injury rates are continuing to decline in Michigan, Martha Yoder, of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA), told attendees of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA) Annual Conference at Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant in January.
"In addition, in 2007, we had an historic low for fatalities in the construction industry. We had 21 program-related fatalities in Michigan, and 11 of those were construction-related. Not too many years ago, it was in the 30 range," Yoder said.
Patty Meyer, of MIOSHA, said that there were no underground construction project cave-ins in Michigan in 2007.
"One of the things that we keep track of on a regular basis is the number of violations we issue and the number of inspections we do. The percentage of inspections over the last few years where we find no violations has been increasing. In 2005, it was approximately 29 percent of our inspections; in 2006 it was 34percent; and in 2007 it was 38 percent," Bob Pawlowski, of MIOSHA said.
Yoder said that MIOSHA's budget is tight and the department is looking at ways to cut spending, but it's not due to the state budget problems. "Our funding comes from the federal government, an assessment on worker's compensation losses, and restricted funds for commercial licensing in the state. Our budget is tight because of federal issues and we have been looking at ways to reduce expenditures and become more efficient, but that does not translate into increased citations or increases in penalties. The penalties that are assessed go to the general fund, and it's up to the legislature to decide how they are spent each year," Yoder said.
"The way we decide what to do at MIOSHA is by following a five-year strategic plan. We're in the fifth year of a five-year plan and we're in the process of developing a new five-year plan. There has been an emphasis on the construction industry and we expect that to continue. If you have ideas or strategies or things that you would like to see us do that help the construction industry, a work group that is putting together that piece of the strategic plan would like to hear from you.
"We're hoping to have our draft done by spring. We will hold a stakeholders' meeting in the spring, where we will invite groups such as your association to take a look at what we are proposing. Hopefully, we'll be able to roll out our new plan by October 1."
Bob Patzer, executive vice president of MITA, discussed the road funding problem in Michigan. "They're talking about raising the federal gas tax somewhere between 25 and 40 cents per gallon over five years. We (Michigan) couldn't take a nickel of that money, because we don't have the matching funds. So, when you hear Michigan lawmakers talk about getting more money from Washington, D.C. — of course we should. The problem is that we can't take it. We have to clean our own house, get this thing on track, and let's rebuild Michigan," Patzer said.
"We recently had an unprecedented and somewhat historic meeting in the state capitol with the governor, lieutenant governor, the majority and minority leaders of the Michigan Senate, the speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, and the minority leader of the House of Representatives, and we talked about transportation. We re-emphasized the need for additional funding. With everything that's happened in Lansing, this thing is still on everybody's front burner.
"We had several of our members at the meeting. One of our members said that 70 percent of their work is out-of-state. Five years ago 70 percent of their work was in Michigan. The lawmakers get all excited about Volkswagen taking 400 jobs out of the state of Michigan. By the numbers presented to us by The University of Michigan, we stand to lose 12,000 jobs this year, and possibly more. When you sit across the table from someone who has a vested interest in this and look them in the face and tell them that, you get a blank stare. The response is, 'yeah, but we simply can't raise the gas tax.'
"I can tell you this: I can stand here today, and, with a great deal of conviction, I can tell you that we will get a transportation package. Unfortunately, I can't tell you when."
Lansing correspondent and political pundit Tim Skubick asked Democratic Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Andy Dillon, of Redford Township, and Republican Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, of Rochester, if there will be a vote on a state gas tax increase before the next election and both said no. Skubick then asked if a vote on a gas tax increase would happen in a lame duck session. Dillon said that it is probable.
"There is no doubt that we have a funding problem for infrastructure. I know that we need to find revenue in order to fund the state's obligation to maintain the infrastructure. Is the gas tax the way to go about it? I have not necessarily bought into that. I'm open to looking at other options," Dillon said.
"Based on the recent meeting we had, there is a desire on the part of the leadership in Lansing to address this funding shortfall. There is also an agreement that everything is on the table. I think that there is a willingness to look at how to do this."
Bishop said that the case has not been made to have a vote on a gas tax increase in a lame duck session of the state legislature.
"The citizens of our state have had it up to their ears in tax increases this year. So much so, that even the governor said that she would not pursue a tax increase," Bishop said.
"Infrastructure is a major priority for the state. Each party and each chamber of the legislature has identified infrastructure as a major priority. Our citizens drive these roads and our businesses pass over these roads. It's a necessary component to the future of our state. Having said that, I think there are a lot of things we can do that aren't necessarily tax related. We have assets available in the state revenue stream, but we need to make roads a high priority.
"Part of the budget battle that we just went through had a major reform for schools and public employees. We can line up the savings from those reforms in the coming years and use that savings toward road funding." Dillon disagreed.
"The school reforms will save $200 million to $300 million per year, but that's 10 years out. So, I don't see the near-term savings that we're hoping for. The state procures $17 billion in goods and services per year. We need private sector discipline in state government when it comes to purchasing. We're looking at ways to restructure retiree healthcare along the lines of what the auto industry did in order to alleviate spending pressures in government. Those are the monster items that have to happen in order to have us credibly tell you that we can fund what you need. I think that nibbling at the edges of some of the other reforms is not going to provide enough money to address what you, as an industry, have asked us to do," Dillon said.
State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said that preliminary recommendations by a task force established by the Michigan legislature and Governor Granholm to examine transportation funding in Michigan must be submitted by October 31.
In 2007, the state tendered approximately $450 million in loans through the State Revolving Fund (SRF) for wastewater projects. This year, the state is attempting to tender approximately $535 million in loans through the SRF, according to Chip Heckathorn, of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Heckathorn added that the Drinking Water Revolving Fund (DWRF) loans will remain the same this year compared to 2007, at approximately $56 million.
Heckathorn said that bids for 2008 projects will be advertised through June with the largest projects advertised in March and April.
"We have very large projects in Detroit that include two significant tunneling efforts, as well as sewer and water main replacement contracts. We have a large combined sewer overflow (CSO) project due to be funded in Dearborn and another one in Inkster. We have continuing sewer separation work that is going on in Lansing and we have an anticipated large force main replacement project in Muskegon. We also have a large treatment facility project in Jackson County," Heckathorn said.