Tax hike's boost for Michigan roads detailed

Tom Greenwood and Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

As the campaign ramps up for and against Proposal 1, to raise taxes for roads and other programs, state transportation officials Monday issued a comprehensive list of how much each Michigan county and community would get to maintain its roadways.

Under the state formula, said MDOT communications director Jeff Cranson, 39.1 percent of transportation funding goes to the state for trunklines, 39.1 percent goes to county road commissions for county roads, and 21.8 percent goes to cities and towns to maintain their streets and roadways.

If approved by voters May 5, MDOT said, the state transportation fund would grow from about $265 million this year to $765 million in 2016, $906 million in 2017 and more than $1 billion by 2018.

Among the 83 counties, Oakland County would get about $272 million for the county road system over the next three fiscal years; Wayne County would get $257 million; and Macomb County about $171 million after getting $84.4 million, $80 million and $52.9 million boosts, respectively.

Cities and towns would get separate, additional money. For example, Allen Park's road money would increase from $1.76 million in 2014 to an estimated $2.9 million in 2018; Birmingham would climb from $1.24 million to $2.06 million; and Detroit would go from $54.2 million to $89.9 million.

Proposal 1 would raise the 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent and create a wholesale tax on fuel to replace the current 19-cents-a-gallon levy at the pump. It is projected to generate an additional $1.2 billion a year for roads, as well as $300 million for K-12 schools, $100 million for transit and $95 million for revenue sharing to local governments.

A statewide advertising campaign urges a "no" vote, suggesting voters are being misled into thinking the entire tax increase will go to roads. The complex proposal was crafted by Lansing lawmakers and the governor in hopes of building a coalition of support among transportation, education and local government interests.

At least four opposition groups have organized since lawmakers passed the road plan in December, many of them backed by Republican and conservative activists.

Tom McMillin, chairman of Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan, said state government needs to do more to repair roads and bridges without increasing taxes on an already tax-weary populace.

"We could fix those problems without taking money out of other people's pockets," said McMillin, a Republican and former state representative from Rochester Hills, on Monday. "There's no argument that we need more money for road funding. The Legislature needs to do their job and prioritize the money they have now. They don't need to be taking more."

He cited MDOT's failure to hold contractors accountable for poor workmanship on roads by invoking warranties to repair problems.

Some local leaders are remaining neutral, such as Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

Hackel said Monday the extra $26 million for repairs of county roads would be welcomed, but he's not taking a public position either way on Proposal 1.

"I can't say no to it, because it's sorely needed, but I don't think it was the right way of going about it," Hackel told The Detroit News.

Hackel said he doesn't like how lawmakers are asking voters to solve the state's chronic underfunding of road and bridge repairs, instead of doing it themselves.

"What they did is they put it on our backs to get out there and try to sell this thing … when in reality, that's what they got elected to do — to make difficult decisions," Hackel said. "Now I've got to hope that the voters will look past this mistrust that they have and recognize we have such a severe problem with the roads, in particular in Macomb County and southeast Michigan."

Patterson recently told The Detroit News that he is "not advocating a 'no' vote, but I'm sure as hell not leading the parade seeking its passage."

Gov. Rick Snyder has argued that the extra road and bridge funding financed through the new tax system is also vital to keep federal matching funds flowing from Washington, D.C. Currently, the federal government will fund 80 percent of the cost of projects involving interstate, U.S. and Michigan roads, but only if the state can come up with a matching 20 percent.

Michigan is having a harder time coming up with the needed 20 percent due to declining gas tax revenues because people are driving fewer miles and vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient.

"The Legislature has had to step in the past few years and offer us General Fund money just so we could meet the match and not leave federal money on the table," said MDOT's Cranson. "The governor has been consistently calling for an additional $1.2 billion in state investment so we can meet the math and help the state, counties and cities shore up their battered roads and bridges."

If the state is unable to attain matching funds, those federal dollars end up going to other states.

According to MDOT, Michigan currently invests $154 per capita on roads compared to $530 for Pennsylvania, $412 for Illinois, $302 for Wisconsin, $239 for New York, $289 for Indiana, $275 for Minnesota and $214 for Ohio.

In 2012-13, about 19 percent of Michigan's roads were considered to be in good condition, about 48 percent in fair condition and 33 percent in poor condition.

Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.