From the Daily: No help for the highways

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 8:17pm

No help for the highways

No help for the highways Buy this photo
Anjali Alangaden/Daily

 

Year after year, Michigan’s roads deteriorate at a rate that ongoing repairs cannot keep up with. In an attempt to finally address this issue, the state legislature recently passed a comprehensive bill that promises to provide an additional $1.2 billion to the Michigan Department of Transportation and local governments over the next six years. Despite the near-unanimous agreement that our roads are in need of repair, the spending package — backed largely by Republicans — has proven to be quite controversial. While apparent improvements to roads are needed now, the proposed solution delays action for years and isn’t transparent about its spending re-prioritization. Though highly unlikely, Gov. Rick Snyder should consider vetoing the proposed bill in the hope of passing a more specific road infrastructure plan.  

Currently, the Michigan public road system is the ninth-largest in the nation. Though the road system is extensive, just 19 percent of Michigan’s local government leaders rate their county’s roadways as being in good condition. Similarly, the average Detroit-area motorist pays $536 on car repairs due to poor road conditions, and the annual statewide cost of crashes resulting from road conditions totals $2.3 billion.

The bill currently on its way to Snyder’s desk is hardly the state’s first attempt to improve our roadways. In early May, voters were presented with Proposal 1, a referendum that aimed at increasing funding for highways through a 1-percent sales-tax increase, alongside other measures. The proposal was voted down during the state’s spring election with a record-shattering vote of roughly 1.4 million to 351,000. Many of those who voted against the proposal felt it placed an unfair burden on households, which is a similar sentiment to the opposition the current bill faces. However, the public will not have a say on the recent roads package since it isn’t a ballot initiative.

The proposed legislation stipulates that a portion of its funding will come from cuts to the state’s general fund. The fund — which is responsible for financing state initiatives, such as education, healthcare and other public services — totaled approximately $10 billion at the close of the last fiscal year. Over the past few years, the Snyder administration has slashed the general fund, including a $103 million cut that shifted money away from the State Police, the Department of Education and Department of Environmental Quality to decrease the budget deficit. It’s difficult to find an area in the general fund that hasn’t been diminished by deficit-reduction measures and even harder to find an area that is able to endure further decreases in funding.  

The Michigan Legislature should have specified within the new bill before Snyder exactly what funds will be cut from the general fund. This would make Michigan residents more aware of potential harmful effects of the bill. Currently, the bill offers no such specificity, so few assumptions can be made other than the fact that critical state services could suffer from lower funding.

With a $600 million cut to the general fund accounting for half of the bill’s costs, the remaining half must come from other sources. If Snyder signs the bill into law, Michigan citizens would pay more out of pocket for vehicle-related costs through a 20-percent increase in vehicle registration fees and an additional fuel tax of 7.3 cents per gallon.

Though this new tax is presented as an equitable solution, the bill’s sponsors do not recognize its potential negative impacts on certain segments of the population. The new policy is effectively a regressive tax — one that disproportionately affects citizens of lower socioeconomic status.

For a better infrastructure, the state legislature must work toward a bipartisan solution that spreads the costs in a fairer distribution. Additionally, our lawmakers must recognize that further cuts to the state’s general fund will have significant consequences for citizens throughout Michigan. The state legislature cannot continue diminishing crucial programs like public education and health care; our government must consider alternative ways to raise revenue to improve the road system.