Wanted: good roads
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Success of ballot issues for roads indicate public's appetite for improved highways
Backers of increased taxes for road repairs have been touting the results of the Aug. 3 primary election. From nearly two-thirds to more than three-fourths of local transportation millage requests were approved, depending on whether you're talking about millage continuations or increases.
Evidence from the primary, indicating that Michiganians do value good transportation, should help lawmakers buck up the courage to fix the road funding problem with a fuel tax increase recommended by a coalition of business, labor, public interest and local government leaders.
Voters on Aug. 3 approved 115 of 136 local government road repair millage requests (85 percent), according to the Michigan Transportation Team, a coalition of business and labor groups. Tax increases to maintain and improve local roads were approved on 29 of 48 local ballots (60 percent). The nonpartisan Center for Michigan says taxpayers' support for local road projects was exceeded only by their backing of tax requests for fire protection.
Of course, election results always are subject to partisan spin. Interpreting them is more of an art than a science. Voters base their decisions on such variables as cost, the desirability of specific projects that are being proposed and how much they trust their local officials to handle money wisely.
Still, politicians in Lansing now can gain some encouragement as they contemplate what must be done. Without an increase in road revenues for the state budget that will take effect Oct. 1, Michigan will fall $84 million short of what's needed to attract all of the federal transportation money available to the state. A number of important road and bridge repair projects will be shelved and that will be a significant setback for the state's sustained effort to improve its transportation system over the last several years. At stake is $475 million in federal matching money.
Michigan's gasoline tax is 19 cents per gallon. Its diesel fuel tax is 15 cents per gallon. What has been proposed is a gradual increase in the gasoline tax to 28 cents a gallon over the next three years, accompanied by a gradual boost of the diesel fuel tax to the same per-gallon total. Whether the tax should ultimately go that high is a separate question. But an increase is necessary to give this state a sustainable highway improvement program.
Some will note that Michigan also imposes its 6 cents per dollar sales tax on fuel, but most of the revenue collected from that is used for K-12 school aid.
Certainly, any increase in the gasoline tax should be accompanied by a change in the distribution formula of the tax revenues. Heavily-traveled highways in the Metro Detroit area have been shortchanged for years.
Tax hikes are unpleasant but sometimes necessary. It's important to remember these are user taxes, tied directly to fuel consumption by those driving to work or outings up north. Raising it to improve Michigan's roads is an investment in the state's future -- one that will pay off by attracting new businesses and more visitors.
From The Detroit News: