LANSING, Mich. (June 4, 2014) – After striking two major bipartisan deals, legislation to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads has stalled at the Capitol.
A package of bills in the Senate would raise more than $1.5 billion to pay for road and bridge repairs by gradually increasing the percentage tax on gasoline and ending a rebate on new vehicle registration fees, among other things.
“The governor and the Republicans control both houses of the Legislature,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. “All you need are 56 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate and one gubernatorial signature. If they could get it done on their own, they would’ve by now.”
With Michigan still recovering from one of the harshest winters on record, drivers are left right in the middle of pothole season – again.
“For lack of a better analogy, I think the can has been kicked down the road for a while,” said Rep. Brandon Dillon (D – Grand Rapids). “But now, I think the can has fallen into a pothole and you can’t kick it anymore. We have to do something about it.”
But as 2014 is an election year, lawmakers likely have concerns about raising taxes before voters cast a ballot.
“I think that it’s an election year complicates things, but I think the sheer magnitude of this tax would make it difficult in any year,” said Whitmer. “This would be bar none, the largest tax increase any one of us will ever vote for here at the Capitol.”
While it appears there is consensus that something must be done, the solution remains unclear.
“I have consistently had great concern with raising the gas tax in our state,” said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R – Lowell). “Our residents pay way too much in gas already.”
Democrats are also worried about the burden a massive gas tax would have on Michigan’s low-income residents.
“I think after three years of shifting taxes from business onto individuals, there are a lot of us who are very concerned that this represents an enormous burden on people that are really struggling to make ends meet,” Whitmer said.
Lawmakers also have questions about whether the plan in the Senate solves the funding issue in the long-term.
“I want to make it that, at the end of the day, as we figure out how to fix our roads, is that number one, our roads are gonna last,” said Geoff Hansen (R – Hart). “We have to have long-lasting roads and that every dollar that we look at has to be put into roads, not into the administration of roads, all of our infrastructure.”
Now that automakers are using alternative energies to fuel vehicles, Hildrenbrand questions the wisdom of tying funding to gasoline.
“Gasoline is kind of a fuel of the past, Hildenbrand said. “It doesn’t reflect the future. If we tie our revenue stream to fuel, gasoline, we’re going to be revisiting this problem a few years down the road.”
Minority Leader Whitmer says to help bridge the gaps among lawmakers, it’s time for Gov. Snyder to bring everyone to the negotiating table.
“It’s incumbent on the governor to show some leadership here, to call quadrant meetings and to negotiate, to the extent that he’s, A, not even calling meetings and, B, shown thus far a total lack of interest in negotiating,” Whitmer said.
Before leaving for summer break, lawmakers have two full weeks of session remaining this month. That has some saying that if a deal isn’t done soon, it may not be done at all.
Whitmer says that’s “a phony deadline” and expects a road-funding package of bills will eventually make it to the governor’s desk.