Calley: Sales tax plan simplifies road, school funding

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Grand Rapids — Lt. Gov. Brian Calley sought Friday to simplify the complicated road funding proposal voters will decide on May 5 as opposition mounts to the sales tax increase plan.

Speaking here at a convention of newspaper editors and publishers, Calley said the proposed sales tax hike to 7 percent from 6 percent would eliminate an “overly complicated and inefficient” system of funding roads “that results in half of the money that is charged at the pump not going to fix our roads and bridges, per our constitution.”

Voter approval of the sales tax increase would trigger the elimination of the sales tax on fuel and dedicate a new tax on gasoline and diesel entirely to transportation infrastructure and maintenance. The sales tax hike would “back fill and then some” revenue schools and municipalities will lose from the elimination of the tax on fuel, Calley said.

“That’s the proposal — gas taxes go to roads, the sales tax goes to schools and local government,” Calley said at the Michigan Press Association’s annual conference. “What it provides us is our best shot at a permanent and ongoing solution to an infrastructure problem that has existed for so long.”

Calley’s attempt to streamline proponents’ arguments for the multifaceted proposal comes as four separate ballot committees are gearing up to advocate for the defeat of Proposal 1.

The newest opponent is Grand Rapids political strategist John Yob, who helped Calley survive a renomination challenge at the Michigan Republican Party convention last August and advised Calley and Gov. Rick Snyder during the past two election campaigns. The Detroit News first reported Thursday Yob is launching a group called Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases, urging a “no” vote on the proposal.

Calley said it’s not surprising “that there are some Republicans that don’t support this plan.”

“John is a consultant that operates according to what he believes in and who his clients are and so he’s free to do that,” Calley told reporters. “This is just John going out doing what he thinks is right, and the governor’s doing what he thinks is right.”

Another opponent is the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals, which was formed by Paul Mitchell, a millionaire businessman from the Saginaw area.

Calley spoke at the newspaper convention in place of Snyder, who remained hospitalized Friday because of a blood clot in his injured right leg.

The Snyder administration has focused its “yes” campaign on improving the safety of Michigan’s rugged roads, while opponents are trying to capitalize on earmark funding tacked on to the proposal that has nothing to do with transportation infrastructure. The “yes” campaign changed its name to Safe Roads Yes this week from the original name, Michigan Citizens for Better Roads and Schools.

In addition to $1.2 billion more for roads, the proposal includes $300 million more annually for education and $260 million to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families to pre-2012 levels before Snyder reduced the credits.

“I think they rebranded the committee to take out any reference to the other stuff they’re paying for — nice try. They tried that with New Coke, and it didn’t work for them either,” Mitchell said Friday during a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record” public affairs television show.

The road funding proposal also was one of the main topics Friday morning during the newspaper convention’s panel discussion with all four legislative leaders.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich all said they are personally planning to vote “yes” on Proposal 1.

Greimel hedged his answer, though.

“It’s not perfect, it’s not what some of us would have preferred to see happen, but if it passes, a lot of good things will come as a result,” said Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.

Meekhof, R-West Olive, challenged opponents of the sales tax increase to create a better solution to the state’s road funding deficit.

“They don’t say, what will the corresponding cuts be in the current budget? What will they do without? Because we have significant challenges in the budget,” Meekhof said. “So give me the list of 20 items that you’re willing to cut that’s going to give me a billion dollars every year.”

Meekhof added: “And, oh, by the way, get me 56 votes and 20 votes and the governor that will sign them all.”