Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 12, 2014

Another View: Funds should be allocated for intended purpose

It seemed like a good idea at the time: levying a small tax on each gallon of gasoline sold in our state to deal with the costs of removing leaking underground gasoline tanks and cleaning contaminated soil around them.

The tax, 7/8 of a cent per gallon, was levied starting in 1988. The cleanup program was stopped 7 years later, reportedly after it was overwhelmed by the need.

But collection of the tax has continued. And so has spending from it.

And now there’s a move to return spending to its original intent.

According to a published report, it’s been used for a number of purposes. It’s helped fund some programs at the Department of Environmental Quality. It’s helped pay salaries of the employees with the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development who check accuracy of gasoline pumps. It’s helped pay off environmental bonds issued by the state.

And it’s not small change. The tax brings in about $50 million annually. A total of $850 million has been spent from the fund just in the last nine years. Wouldn’t that have dealt with a lot of leaky tanks? Removed a lot of contaminated soil around them?

Perhaps. But we gather the remediation is an expensive process, sometimes reaching six digits.

Against that, the number of leaky tanks, contaminated soil needing remediation has increased, now to more than 9,000 at more than 7,000 sites. Not all of the owners are known. Some who are will never afford the required cleanup. And some of those lost their businesses years ago. Some, in fact, lost their businesses when the fund stopped accepting new claims in 1995.

A proposal in Lansing would require the revenue to be used for its original purpose, and remove it from ordinary state budgeting by assigning control to an authority-like board.

The proposal is in search of legislative sponsors.

We hope it finds them, and urge our own legislators to sign on.

— Oakland Press

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