Democrats to fight hike in Mich. car registration fees

Gary Heinlein, and Chad Livengood

Lansing — Top Democrats said Monday they oppose and will campaign against a proposed increase in vehicle registration fees, further complicating lawmakers’ efforts to fix Michigan’s road repair shortfall.

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel charged that a proposed 40 percent registration fee increase included in a roads plan passed in late October by the House Republican majority “puts the burden squarely on everyday families, but lets corporations off the hook.”

Senate Republicans couldn’t muster enough votes to pass their own version of the House plan last week because the proposed registration fee hike gave too many of them “heartburn,” according to GOP Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive.

It leaves Meekhof, House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, and Gov. Rick Snyder looking for ways to forge a deal that can pass the Legislature and bolster the annual road repair budget by at least $1.2 billion.

Lawmakers have five days of legislative sessions scheduled, starting Tuesday, before their annual Thanksgiving and deer hunting break. Afterward, there are traditionally about six days of furious and chaotic law-making in early December before legislators adjourn for the year.

Democrats, excluded from the current discussions, say corporations benefit from better roads and should shoulder some of the tax increase. Republicans charged Monday that Democrats’ attack on registration fees only will make it harder to find common ground.

“It certainly doesn’t make things easier,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Meekhof. “As the majority leader said, he is looking for a solution. ... Obviously, no one should be looking to the Michigan Democratic Party for a solution.”

Cotter’s spokesman was similarly blunt.

“Political gamesmanship from the Democrats sunk the bipartisan talks over road repairs a few weeks ago, and now they’re trying to derail the current negotiations as well,” Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.

Snyder said Monday a “Republican-only plan” is possible given the current gridlock.

But the Republican governor suggested he doesn’t care what mixture of Democrats and Republicans make up an affirmative vote on a roads plan.

“I’m not the partisan person,” Snyder said after speaking at a Center for Michigan policy conference in Lansing. “I view it as: Get a good plan to me that is taking care of Michigan roads and financially responsible.”

Snyder has long called for double-digit increases in vehicle registration fees.

But Snyder was noncommittal Monday on the House-passed plan of devoting roughly $600 million in new taxes and fees and $600 million in existing tax revenue to achieve his long-sought goal of pumping an extra $1.2 billion annually into road and bridge repairs.

“And I think we are making progress on finding a workable solution, because we need one,” he told reporters.

House GOP members passed their plan Oct. 21, a week after talks broke down between Snyder and the four leaders of Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Those discussions had included a proposed $400 million registration fee increase, D’Assandro said.

The House plan calls for shifting or earmarking $600 million in general fund revenue to roads and raising an added $600 million through fuel tax and registration fee increases. But it wouldn’t be fully implemented until 2021.

Democrats say the late effective date makes the plan useless — by then, road repairs will have fallen even farther behind, repair materials will cost more and the amount needed will be much higher.

Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said his party still favors a plan House Democrats touted in July whose centerpiece is $530 million in new revenue raised by increasing the state’s 6 percent corporate income tax to 9 percent.

Democrats claim the $1.8-billion tax cut Snyder and his legislative majority handed businesses in 2011 hasn’t significantly boosted jobs, despite a drop in the state’s unemployment rate to 5 percent in September.

Their plan also would boost state roads revenue by eliminating some registration fee discounts, increasing fees and overweight fines for heavy trucks and renegotiating to eliminate some of the billions of dollars in tax breaks the state promised corporations in return for jobs they retained or created during the recession.

It would dedicate to roads the portion of sales tax collections on fuel that currently goes to the general fund, which is the state’s main checkbook.

Republicans already have said they have no interest in the Democrats’ proposed corporate income tax hike.

Greimel and State Party Chairman Brandon Dillon, in a Monday morning conference call with the Capitol press, referred to registration fees as a “birthday tax” and announced the opening of an opposition website called

They’re using the term “birthday tax” because vehicle registration fees come due each year in the birthday months of their owners.

“We are calling on every Michigan resident to ... tell Republicans ‘no thanks’ to their birthday tax on Michigan’s middle-class and working families,” Dillon said.