LANSING – Politicians abdicate their responsibility when they pledge they will never vote to increase taxes, the lobbyist for a group pushing for a $1.4-billion annual boost in road funding said Friday.
Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said such pledges and no-new-taxes mind-sets are among the biggest obstacles in a push to approve a package of bills to provide more money to fix and maintain Michigan roads and bridges.
Nystrom backs a plan that would raise an extra $500 million to $600 million by hiking motor vehicle registration fees by about $60 on average; raise about $500 million by taxing wholesale gasoline sales, divert about $100 million in Michigan sales tax revenue to roads and collect another $200 million to $250 million by removing various “loopholes” in vehicle registration fee collections.
Bills with bipartisan support containing measures similar to those are expected to be introduced soon at the Capitol in Lansing, Nystrom said during a Friday taping of “Off the Record” hosted byTim Skubick on public TV’s WKAR.
Gov. Rick Snyder voiced support for the $1.4-billion boost to road funding in his State of the State address Wednesday but has not said publicly how he thinks the money should be raised.
Snyder in October floated the idea of hiking vehicle registration fees about $120 on average. That proposal has garnered little support.
Nystrom said he believes there is growing recognition in Michigan that more road money is needed just to protect the state’s investment because it will cost far more money to fix the roads and bridges if they are allowed to crumble further.
However, “people are signing these no new tax pledges,” he said. “It makes it very difficult.”
In Michigan, four of 38 state senators and 18 of 110 House members have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promoted by Americans for Tax Reform and its president Grover Norquist, according to the group’s Web site.
Many are GOP lawmakers connected with the conservative tea party movement in Michigan.
Nystrom said his association conducted focus groups with tea party members who said they don’t necessarily oppose tax increases, they just don’t want tax money wasted.
Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said the pledges are only an obstacle to those who constantly demand more taxpayer money to spend.
“It’s a great asset to taxpayers,” he said.
Drolet said far too much of Michigan’s road money is wasted today on projects such as the Detroit People Mover, public transit buses that run empty and paying unnecessarily high project costs through prevailing wage laws.
“We’re nowhere close to the point where we should be asking folks to pay more,” Drolet said.
Nystrom said his group has paid for some billboards and is using social media but doesn’t have the money for a big advertising campaign.
“Concrete falling off of bridges is a selling point for us, when it falls off and breaks windshields,” he said.