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Lansing State Journal: Legislators can't shirk duty on road $$

Wednesday, September 17, 2008   (0 Comments)
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link: Lansing State Journal: Legislators can't shirk duty on road $ 

State lawmakers know Michigan faces a crisis in repairing its roads and bridges. The gap between the money available and the money needed is measured in the billions. And it's only growing worse. 


Lawmakers also know that they have it in their power to raise more money for roads and bridges via an increase in state fuel taxes. 


They simply haven't done so. The fact it's an election year may have something to do with that choice. 


So, what are voters to make of a package of bills filed at the Capitol over the summer to let county governments levy their own fuel taxes? 


Not much. 


The legislation, as described by Crain's Detroit Business, would allow counties to levy: 


  • A 3-cent per gallon gas tax. 
  • A 1 percent sales tax. 
  • A real-estate transfer tax. 
  • Taxes on vehicle registration and driver's licenses. 


All such levies would require the approval of a county's voters. 


One thing that jumps out about this "solution" is the fact that these county levies would come on top of state ones. The state already imposes such taxes for its own purposes, including road construction. 


So why does Michigan need another layer of taxation here? Presumably if a county engaged in a new tax, it would impose new work on the local bureaucracy to oversee it. 


Also, a county-by-county tax system will simply encourage people to evade taxes by driving over a county line to find "cheaper" gasoline. 


At about the same time these bills were being filed, Gov. Jennifer Granholm was receiving a report that showed how Michigan was $6 billion behind when it came to road needs. 


Also, as reported by Crain's, the Michigan Department of Transportation "predicts that beginning in 2010, based on current revenue estimates, it will be unable to provide the state funds needed to match a portion of federal aid for Michigan road projects. That means the department could lose out on nearly $4.5 billion in federal funding, or about $750 million a year, in the 2010-2015 time frame." 


This is the crisis the state is ignoring; the crisis at least some lawmakers believe is best ignored by the state. 


The solution is obvious: Michigan's Legislature and governor have to put their delicate sensibilities aside and craft a statewide road tax system - including tax increases - to rescue Michigan's crumbling infrastructure. 


It's a tough call, but such challenges come with the $79,000 legislative salary and the taxpayer-funded offices and staff. 

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