Johnson, Kolb: Find bipartisan road funding plan
Michigan’s roads, bridges and public transportation system are at a critical point, and Lansing will be held accountable — regardless of party label — if a solution is not provided soon.
Traditionally, we have funded Michigan’s transportation needs with user fees, almost evenly split between fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Because the fuel tax has not been raised since 1997, inflation has eaten away its buying power. Today’s 19-cents-per-gallon tax is only worth about 13.5 cents. On top of that, we are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and driving fewer miles overall — factors that further erode our fuel-tax revenue.
The solution should not be complicated. If fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees are how we fund our transportation system, modestly increasing both of them will generate the needed revenue.
If we increased the fuel tax by 15 cents over the course of three years, and then indexed the tax to inflation, it would cost the average driver $10 per month while generating $600 million in new revenue in its third year.
A modest $5 monthly increase in vehicle registration fees will generate another $425 million. We can cushion our pocketbooks by keeping the ad valorem basis for assessing registration fees so they are still deductible from federal income taxes.
General fund dollars could be used if necessary to make up the needed funds.
Currently, $400 million from the general fund supports transportation, but only $146 million of that comes from ongoing funding sources and not one-time revenue. If they looked hard enough, it’s probably fair to assume lawmakers could come up with around $200 million in ongoing general fund revenue without pulling too much away from other top budget priorities.
Combining these general fund dollars with the added fuel tax and registration fee revenue would more than cover the $1.2 billion needed to fix our transportation system.
With the defeat of Proposal 1 in May, voters said they wanted legislators to do their job and keep the solution simple. Our proposal will meet both of those requirements.
Voters also said they’re willing to pay more, as long as the revenue goes to our transportation system. This funding plan passes that test as well, since the state constitution requires that revenue from fuel taxes and registration fees is dedicated to transportation.
Rick Johnson, a Republican, is former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. Chris Kolb served for six years as a Democratic state representative from the 53rd district, and is president of the Michigan Environmental Council.