Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 6, 2013

Editorial: Hopefully lawmakers can make levy moot

Traverse City Record-Eagle

— The Grand Traverse County Road Commission is doing the right thing by talking now about the possibility of asking voters within the next year or two to approve a countywide road millage to pay for needed road maintenance and repairs.

First, the county must wait and see what happens to Gov. Rick Snyder’s plans to raise up to $1.2 billion a year to repair crumbling Michigan roads and bridges and stop the decades-long deterioration of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Lawmakers have not yet declared Snyder’s plan dead on arrival, but the reception has been a cool one. Snyder is proposing a hike of about 14 cents per gallon in the price of unleaded gasoline and 18 cents a gallon in the cost of diesel fuel and hiking vehicle registration fees 60 percent for cars and light trucks and 25 percent for heavy trucks. The impact on families would be about an extra $120 per vehicle per year, Snyder said.

Some bills already introduced involve the state sales tax and would require voter approval, including one that would exempt gasoline from sales taxes but raise the fuel tax. To make it to the May ballot, those plans would have to pass the Legislature this week; rushing a plan like that is probably not a good idea.

Another plan has surfaced that deserves a closer look. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said he’s working on bills to raise the money through allocating increased revenue generated by economic growth; reducing interest payments on debt; building roads that last longer; and generating revenue from state-owned assets through deals involving advertising, concessions and naming rights.

Colbeck acknowledges he doesn’t yet know how to reduce interest payments and that many details are yet to be worked out. But he also claims total savings would be in the $6 billion range, well beyond what Snyder said is needed. They’re worth looking at.

If all else fails and the road commission does indeed ask county voters to tax themselves, the commission is going to have to first regain a lot of lost credibility. Board feuding over per-diem payments, public, profanity-filled rants by at least one commissioner and a board decision to pull out of the regional planning group TC-TALUS have all eroded confidence that the commission can be trusted to do the adult work of mounting a millage campaign and then using the money wisely.

Hopefully state lawmakers — who have credibility problems of their own — will make the issue of a local levy moot.