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Detroit Free Press: As road needs sputter on empty, Granholm runs low on gumption

Thursday, January 08, 2009   (0 Comments)
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The legislature did not approve increased transportation funding during the lame duck session of 2008, but MITA is not giving up. There are still opportunities for funding to be approved in 2009 due to mounting pressure to address our crumbling infrastructure. A recent example of that pressure follows. 


link: Detroit Free Press: As road needs sputter on empty, Granholm runs low on gumption 

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has all but ruled out a gas tax increase this year, as she has before. Her refusal to make hard and sometimes unpopular calls, even in her final term, could cement her legacy as a governor who watched Michigan's transportation systems dangerously deteriorate. 


Dismissing a gas-tax increase before the new legislative session starts is both poor policy and lousy politics. Instead, her representatives should be meeting with legislative leaders of both parties -- twisting arms if necessary -- to work out a plan that the state House and Senate could approve. A spokesperson for the governor said Granholm has supported pegging gas taxes to wholesale costs instead of gallons at the pump -- a move that eventually could increase transportation revenue. 


But hundreds of road projects and $2 billion in federal aid are in jeopardy. The governor must assert herself now. 


Michigan last raised its gas tax by 4 cents, to 19 cents a gallon, in 1997. 


To be sure, gas taxes are an inadequate and unreliable way of paying for transportation in the long term, especially as drivers use more fuel-efficient vehicles. In the long run, Michigan and the rest of the country need to find better ways to pay for roads, bridges and transit systems, as Granholm has pointed out. 


So any state gas tax increase should have sunset provisions. But getting another revenue stream in place, such as an odometer tax, would take years. 


Michigan can't afford to wait. As it stands, from 2010-12, a projected shortfall of $342 million in transportation revenue will prevent Michigan from providing the 20% match required for most of $1 billion a year in federal transportation dollars available to the state. As a result, the state is projected to forgo nearly $2 billion in federal transportation aid. 


Nearly 250 road projects, scheduled through 2011, would have to be delayed without more money. Less money for transit will be available while demand for it continues to rise. President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus package, which will include transportation projects, may provide some short-term relief for Michigan, but not a long-term solution. 


A report released late last year by a transit task force in Lansing concluded that Michigan must double its transportation funding to more than $6 billion a year, just to keep roads and transit systems in good shape. On state roads alone, Michigan falls $320 million a year short of what's needed to maintain them. Some county road commissions already leave snow unplowed and grass uncut. 


A gas tax increase would boost Michigan's economy, creating thousands of jobs. Granholm has argued the state should not raise taxes while the economy tanks. But she backed off a gas tax increase even when times were good -- or at least better. 


In the middle of her final term, Michigan's governor should muster the courage to safeguard the state's long-term interests and keep its roads, highways, bridges and transit systems from falling apart. 


Click here to download a pdf of this article. 

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