Key lawmaker rules out another sales tax hike for roads

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — There are lot of Plan B’s for generating at least $1 billion more annually to repair Michigan roads.

But another sales tax increase ballot question won’t be one of them in the wake of votes’ resounding defeat of Proposal 1 on May 5, an influential GOP lawmaker said Thursday.

“Everything is on the table, except for something going back to the ballot,” said Rep. Jeff Farrington, chairman of a special House committee charged with finding a post-Proposal 1 alternative plan.

“Nothing will go back to the ballot. Because I think people really spoke, that was one clear message we got. They don’t want that.”

“That is the only thing I’m taking off the table,” said Farrington, R-Utica.

The House Roads and Economic Development Committee began hearings Thursday on a 12-bill package pushed by Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, to raise about $1.05 billion more annually for roads, mostly through tapping existing tax revenue and relying on $700 million in future tax growth.

The Cotter plan increases the diesel tax from 15 cents per gallon to 19 cents to make it the same tax rate as unleaded gas.

But Cotter and Farrington have not ruled out a general gas tax increase, which Gov. Rick Snyder and some Senate Republicans have favored.

The committee took testimony Thursday morning on three bills related to competitive bidding and road construction warranties, which Farrington dubbed “the easier stuff.”

But even legislation that doesn’t raise taxes is running into problems.

A lobbyist for the road construction industry said one of the bills allowing county road commissions to competitively bid for work with private companies amounts to a form of socialism.

“Are we going to take a socialist view and allow our government to start competing against private businesses or are we going to continue with the capitalist point of view where the free market is what flows with competitive bidding?” asked Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association.

House Bill 4610 would allow counties to deem their own road agencies as qualified bidders for projects in which a township was paying for 50 percent or more of the cost.

Farrington was not pleased with Nystrom’s “rhetoric.”

“That’s the kind of rhetoric we’re trying to avoid in this discussion debate,” Farrington said. “The less rhetoric we have and the more focus on actually coming to a solution, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

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