The Michigan legislature may finally be yielding to the voices of businesses and constituents demanding a solution to Michigan’s dangerous road conditions.
In the most promising sign yet, the plan to use Michigan’s budget surplus for income tax reductions so quickly embraced just two months ago isn’t getting much discussion. Plans for the surplus have instead gradually shifted to the transportation budget for road and bridge repair. According to Associated Press reports, last week Gov. Rick Snyder attributed that shift to public opinion as the pothole season was fully revealed. One could also assume that legislators coming and going from spring and Easter break experienced the extent of pothole pain as well as angry constituents.
The Business Journal’s Capital News Service reported House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, and Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, had unveiled a plan to increase annual road funding by $500 million. That proposal would be funded by an increase in the diesel fuel tax, which is not likely to provide enough funding for the long term. The cost of repairing decayed roads and bridges just to “good” condition has a price tag of more than $2 billion per year according to Michigan Department of Transportation estimates — and that was before the snows of ’13-’14.
The CNS report also noted the study by Michigan State University economics professor Kenneth Boyer, who compared solutions from other states in dealing with the widespread problem impacting states across the country (see page 9). As MDOT research shows, Boyer noted any tax focused on the cost of fuel would neither provide enough funding nor sustain needed funding because of fuel efficiency improvements and a declining number of drivers. Boyer noted Oregon now taxes the mileage on a vehicle, which provides high revenue despite decreasing use of fuel.
The governor and legislators should consider such a base as real solutions begin to develop.
On the eve of a millage election (in effect extending an existing mileage) by the city of Grand Rapids for road and sidewalk repair, the Business Journal emphasizes that any state road funding solution will not answer the desperate issues in this or any other city — certainly not soon enough.
Mayor George Heartwell noted in Business Journal reports last month that Grand Rapids would receive about $400,000 of the $50 million surplus legislators earmarked for cities. Heartwell also emphasized the city would need about $7 million a year from the state, an amount “that would just about replace funding the city has lost in gas tax revenue” the past decade.
Heartwell blasted legislators saying they have “utterly dismissed” Snyder’s recommendations for comprehensive repairs. “(They) said they would come up with a good idea of their own. And here we are a year later, and there’s no good idea. In fact, there’s no idea.”
As spring turns to summer, the legislature must make highway, road and bridge funding a priority with a concrete plan.