Whitmer proposes raising fuel taxes, education spending in 2020 budget

Sunday, March 10, 2019 - 5:56pm

Governor Gretchen Whitmer presented her 2020 budget to the state legislature Tuesday.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer presented her 2020 budget to the state legislature Tuesday. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined her plan to increase funding for education and repair Michigan’s roads with a hike in fuel taxes in her 2020 budget, an effort to follow through on her campaign promise to “fix the damn roads.” The recommendation, which Whitmer presented to the state legislature on Tuesday, calls for raising the motor fuel tax by $0.45 per gallon, increasing an estimated $2.5 billion a year.Whitmer told state lawmakers the tax hike was necessary to fund the repairs but recognized the cost was “too great to bear in one fell swoop,” instead opting for three subsequent $0.15 increases to be implemented from Oct. 1, 2019 to Oct. 1, 2020. “There’s no doubt that the enormity of this problem is staggering,” Whitmer said. “If we’re going to solve these problems, if we expect anyone to invest in Michigan, we’ve got to invest in ourselves, and I have a plan that will get us to 90 percent of state roads in good or fair condition by 2030.”The revenue from the tax will be deposited into the newly-created Fixing Michigan Roads Plan and dispensed to the state’s most highly traveled roads. Once fully implemented, Whitmer said the tax would cost drivers $23 per month. Whitmer noted poor infrastructure and potholes constituted an unofficial road tax for drivers in the form of frequent car repairs.“This is the worst kind of road tax you can pay because it doesn’t actually fix the roads,” Whitmer said. “Crumbling infrastructure impacts every single one of us. Not one of us is immune … The scariest part of that is if we don’t act now, it will get worse. Over the next decade, the share of Michigan highways and trunk lines in poor condition will more than double, worsening the severity of the danger and costing drivers in our state even more.”Whitmer outlined plans to ensure communities across the state have access to clean drinking water and emphasized the need to increase funding for education, a goal she first introduced in her State of the State address in February. Whitmer also discussed improving higher education attainment among adults in Michigan, which is currently ranked 36th in the country with 43.7 percent of residents having some type of postsecondary education. Whitmer’s budget recommendation expanded on this, offering Michigan colleges and universities a 3 percent increase in funding while restraining tuition hikes at 3.2 percent.Whitmer’s budget provided a $45.6 million increase for Michigan universities’ operations funding. The proposal included $330.4 million in funding for the University’s Ann Arbor campus, $26.9 million for Dearborn and $24.3 million for Flint. In an interview with The Daily in February, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for Government Relations at the University, said her office would be focusing on the funding for universities allocated in Whitmer’s budget. On Tuesday, Wilbanks told the University Record she supported Whitmer’s proposed increase in higher education funding.“Increased funding for our institutions of higher ed helps to ensure that we continue to educate the next generation of Michigan leaders and innovators,” Wilbanks said. “We look forward to sharing our perspective with members of the state Legislature throughout the upcoming budget process.”The $60.2 billion proposal represents a 3.6 percent increase overall from the current fiscal year 2019 budget. According to State Budget Director Chris Kolb, the recommendation includes a total of $10.7 billion for the General Fund, which provides funding for postsecondary education, and a $15.4 billion for the School Aid Fund, an amendment added to the Michigan Constitution in 1955 used to fund K-12 schools. Kolb repeatedly noted the General Fund was at the exact same level it was two decades prior.“Over 80 percent of it are for healthcare, protecting vulnerable children and adults, public safety and education,” Kolb said. “I’ve pounded this point home maybe enough, but it’s at the same point that it was 20 years ago, despite inflation.”Some Republican lawmakers expressed concern about the tax increase and compared Whitmer’s plan to Public Act 51, a bill which split money allocated for road maintenance between the state’s Department of Transportation and local municipalities. State Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Highland Township, criticized Whitmer’s decision to implement the gas tax after comments she made criticizing such an idea during a televised gubernatorial debate against Republican challenger Bill Schuette.“During the campaign season, Gov. Whitmer, during one of the public debates, open debates, talked about a $0.20 gas tax increase and she called it ‘ridiculous,’” Maddock said.At the debate in October, Whitmer told Schuette the claim that she would implement a gas tax was “nonsense, and you know it.”LSA sophomore Dylan Berger, president of the University's chapter of College Republicans, commented on Whitmer’s statement in an email interview with The Daily.“Fast forward a few months and Governor Whitmer is now proposing a 45 cents a gallon gas tax increase,” Berger wrote. “As the Governor herself said a few months ago, this is ridiculous. Michiganders shouldn’t have to suffer through the highest gas tax in the nation to pay for Governor Whitmer’s broken promises. We stand firmly against the Governor’s efforts to go back on her word and impose new taxes on hard working families. Going forward, I believe Governor Whitmer should uphold her promise to Michiganders and fix our roads without making us pay more.”  LSA sophomore Camille Mancuso, communications director for the University's chapter of College Democrats, praised Whitmer’s effort to build on her campaign slogan.“Since we are all familiar with Governor Whitmer’s campaign promise to ‘fix the damn roads,’ it’s exciting to see her work towards fulfilling those promises,” Mancuso said. “This tax increase will hopefully save people the expense of fixing their cars when they are damaged by poor infrastructure. Overall, the budget is very promising. Investing in education, infrastructure, clean water, all will improve the lives of people in this state.”Mancuso also applauded Whitmer for increasing spending on education in the state.“The budget proposal from Governor Whitmer really shows her priorities,” Mancuso said. “Investing in education is a good first step to ensuring every child in this state has the opportunity to succeed. This is not only important for higher education, but also low-income school districts and technical or vocational schools.”