Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

April 16, 2014

Another View: Don’t abandon bigger push to fix state's roads

It’s heartening to see some Michigan lawmakers taking a stab at a long-term solution for the state’s road funding shortfall.

It’s worrisome that the proposal would eventually provide about half the annual revenue increase needed to assure good quality infrastructure going forward.

And it’s troubling that the proposal still dances away from the need for a tax or fee increase to permanently solve the problem of dwindling funds for Michigan’s roads and bridges.

House Speaker Jase Bolger last week (April 3) proposed a plan that would put $450 million toward roads in fiscal 2015 and at least $500 million annually by 2018.

That’s short of the $1.2 billion per year that Gov. Rick Snyder has called for, although the governor made a point of not criticizing the plan, saying he’d like to see it discussed.

Bolger’s plan adopts an idea Snyder put forth sometime ago, eliminating the 19 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax and replacing it with a 6 percent wholesale tax. That’s expected to be revenue neutral at the beginning, but will grow with inflation — an important advantage over the current flat tax, which has not increased since 1997. Because of increased fuel economy and people driving less, when adjusted for inflation the state’s road fund is at its lowest level in 30 years.

The House plan also calls for converting the current 15 cents per gallon diesel fuel tax (which has not been increased in 30 years) to a 6 percent wholesale tax. That change would raise an additional $47 million next year.

The proposal would use some general fund dollars to reach the $450 million figure, which House officials believe they can do by trimming Snyder’s budget proposal. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Senate Republicans are concerned about “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Others who are reluctant to support the proposal say their concern is that it doesn’t go far enough in raising new revenue to meet Michigan’s need for quality roads and bridges.

As Snyder notes, it’s difficult to criticize a proposal that at least starts this serious and much needed discussion. Conventional wisdom holds that getting such a major change passed in an election year is unlikely.

The mistake lawmakers must avoid is failing to fully address the road problem. The worst mistake they could make isn’t increasing taxes. It’s tossing around ideas and once again doing too little.

Lansing State Journal

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