Sen. Colbeck: How to fix roads without raising taxes
On May 5, voters will be asked to consider a ballot proposal that would seek to fix our roads by increasing our taxes. Voters have been told that there are no other viable alternatives. After much investigation, I believe that it is important that voters understand that there are indeed alternatives that merit further consideration.
Over the past four years, I served as vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Subcommittee on Appropriations. During this period, I have spent time with constituents and other legislators studying the problem of the deteriorating condition of our roads and bridges in our state. I have examined how Michigan's road investments and road quality compare to other states. As a result of these efforts, I have assembled no less than four viable options that would allow us to fix our roads without raising taxes.
The first of these options is a blast from the past commonly referred to as "the Bolger plan." This option had already passed the State House last year but was replaced by the current road plan in the Senate. Among other things, this plan would ensure that 100 percent of the taxes raised at the gas pump would go toward fixing our roads. This option would add $149 million to our road budget in the first year.
The second of these options is to simply prioritize the spending of existing funds. This option features freezing general fund budgets with projected increases except for K-12 education, allocating 100 percent of "one-time" spending to roads, using the Budget Stabilization Fund to stabilize the budget, and open up several restricted funds to allow usage of their fund balances to offset road maintenance costs. This option would add $669 million to our road budget in the first year.
The third of these options is to reduce our expenses. These expense reduction opportunities can be broken down into Michigan Department of Transportation cost reductions, non-MDOT government cost reductions, and the removal of federal regulations that drive the cost of road construction. This option would not only address the quality of our road construction as a means of reducing total lifecycle costs; it would also address the quality of our government operations. This option would yield at least another $53 million to our road budget in the first year.
The last of option is all of the above. All told, we have the opportunity to put $869 million toward fixing our roads in year one and apply more than $1.4 billion toward maintaining our roads for each subsequent year.
I have focused on first year spending because, as a public safety issue, we need to demonstrate that we are committed to fixing the roads as quickly as possible. The options outlined above would enable us to put $869 million toward fixing the roads in the first year without raising taxes. For comparison purposes, the ballot proposal would only put $434 million toward the roads in year one. That's after increasing the taxes that you pay by $1.7 billion. In other words, the sum total of these options improves the safety of our roads more than twice as fast as the ballot proposal, and it does so without any tax increases.
As a fellow taxpayer, I believe that these options deserve more consideration than the current dismissive commentary would indicate. I encourage you to take time to explore these four alternatives.
As engaged citizens, it is our duty to keep pressing.
It is important for us all to realize that there are indeed ways to fix our roads without taking more money out of your wallets.
State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, represents the 7th District.
More information on these options is available in the Solution Center at MorninginMichigan.com.