By Paul Egan
It's time to raise the federal gas tax to help fix Michigan's ravaged roads, Gov. Rick Snyder said Tuesday.
Snyder, a Republican who is under fire along with state lawmakers over the shape of Michigan's roads, said the state has taken steps to increase road funding and can do more, but it's also time for the federal government to step up.
He said the state has increased road funding more than $1 billion annually since he took office, but federal road funding has decreased $250 million a year during that time.
"We need federal, state and local partners all working together," but the feds are "going backwards on us," he said.
The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents has not been increased since 1993. President Donald Trump reportedly said he was open to a 25-cent-per-gallon hike in the federal gas tax during a February meeting with lawmakers.
Snyder wouldn't specify how much he thought the federal tax needs to be raised, saying the subject should be studied.
The governor made his comments as he signed legislation providing an extra $175 million in road funding this year to address a state pothole crisis.
"We're making some good progress," in what has been a particularly tough winter and emerging spring for roads, he said. Total funding for Michigan roads has increased from $3.6 billion in 2011 to $4.5 billion in 2018, counting the legislation signed Tuesday, he said.
Republican lawmakers were not all eager to embrace Snyder's latest proposal.
"We need to prioritize the funds that citizens are already sending us," said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, when asked whether he would support a call for a federal gas tax increase.
The federal gas tax is baked into the price motorists pay at the pump. About 85% of the roughly $34 billion the tax raises annually is used for highway construction and maintenance, with the balance dedicated to mass transit.
Though it would raise more money for roads, a problem for Michigan in hiking the federal gas tax is that Michigan's gas prices are already high, relative to neighboring states. That's because Michigan is one of only four states that fully applies its retail sales tax -- which does not support road repairs -- to fuel sales.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat, blasted state legislators on their road funding efforts Monday and said if he was governor he would not sign another bill until legislators dealt with the road funding issue.
Under the legislation Snyder signed Tuesday, $38.1 million would be distributed to cities and villages across the state, $68.4 million would be allocated to the state's 83 counties and another $68.4 million would be used for state trunkline preservation and enhancement projects that would help improve mobility for senior citizens and disabled people, as well as projects that will bolster technology in the state's roads, including coordination and testing of autonomous vehicles.
House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said Snyder had proposed the extra $175 million for the 2019 budget, but he proposed instead spending the money in 2018. Lawmakers from both parties and the governor embraced the idea.
The state portion will be divided between $53 million for state road preservation, which could include patching potholes or asphalt overlays but not total reconstruction of roads, and the rest toward the enhancement projects.
With the distribution, Macomb County would get $4.4 million, Oakland County would receive $7 million and Wayne County would get $6.4 million.
The Road Commission of Oakland County said it would spend the money in three ways: spot resurfacing on sections of roads in really bad shape; preservation overlays on roads that are in moderate shape, and slab replacement on some concrete roads where small sections are in the worst shape.
A road funding plan passed by the Legislature in 2015 included a 7.3-cent-per-gallon increase in gas taxes, with future increases tied to inflation, and a 20% hike in vehicle registration fees to raise $1.2 billion for roads. The higher gas taxes and registration fees have already taken effect. The increased money from the general fund, which will hit $600 million in 2021, will begin to kick in in October with $150 million coming from the state's general fund.
Denise Donohue, executive director of the County Road Association of Michigan, said counties are "very pleased" with the latest $175-million "shot in the arm" for road funding.
At the same time, "we also have to set appropriate expectations for the public," she said.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the $175 million is "sorely needed," but " a drop in the bucket."
"This appropriation needs to be followed with a frank and honest conversation about how to adequately fund our roads," Evans said in a news release.
"We've been putting Band-Aid after Band-Aid on our roads for far too long."
(c)2018 the Detroit Free Press