House speaker: 45-cent gas tax hike a 'nonstarter' that makes residents 'furious'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield before her State of the State speech.

Lansing — The Michigan House Republicans will develop their own road funding plan after House Speaker Lee Chatfield on Thursday called Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 45-cent gas tax increase plan a “nonstarter” that has left constituents “furious.”

Chatfield, R-Levering, told reporters he won’t entertain ideas of a massive tax increase at the pump without also ensuring that all taxes currently paid at the pump go to the roads.

“The proposal that she put forward is a nonstarter for our caucus,” the northern Michigan lawmaker said. “The people in our district cannot afford it, so the gas tax will not be raised 45 cents.”

Chatfield's opposition follows pushback from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who argued Wednesday that working Michiganians "cannot absorb a 45-cent increase in the gas tax." It means Whitmer's 45-cent proposal is effectively dead with the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Shirkey on Wednesday agreed that Michigan needs to spend an additional $2.5 billion on road and bridge repairs to get the state's crumbling infrastructure back into good condition. But he later clarified he thinks a 2015 road funding law, which will provide $925 million in dedicated money this year, should count toward that total. 

Chatfield has argued that the 6 percent sales tax paid on gas, which currently goes toward state school aid and revenue sharing with local units of government, should instead be preserved for roads so all revenue generated at the pump pay for infrastructure repairs.

“I’m not going to box myself in on a conversation on a timeline or the need for new revenue until I am fully convinced that we are using existing revenue in a responsible way,” he said.

Any plan to funnel the gas sales tax to roads would ensure schools are held harmless, Chatfield said. He estimated Thursday that the amount diverted from the pump is about $830 million, of which about $500 million to $600 million finances public schools.

The House Appropriations Committee will “ensure if we dedicate all revenue at the pump to our roads, which is the responsible way to do it, that our schools are not taking a hit,” Chatfield said.

Chatfield’s line in the sand on the gas tax increase comes two days after Whitmer floated her plan for a phased-in 45-cent fuel tax increase to generate $2.5 billion in additional tax revenue to fund for road infrastructure.

The East Lansing Democrat paired the increase with a doubling of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low- and middle-income workers to offset some of the expected impact.

Chatfield declined to say whether he agreed with the $2.5 billion estimate regarding the additional revenue needed to fix Michigan’s roads. He noted that the state funded roads last year “at a record level,” but is making up for 50 years of mismanagement.

The speaker didn’t look kindly on the possibility of a trade off between no-fault auto insurance reform and a gas tax hike, noting he didn’t want to “trade good policy for bad.”

“I’m not certain why I would negotiate a policy that the governor already promised to work on,” he said.

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