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Opinion: Michigan won't tolerate gas tax hike

Lee Chatfield

Like everyone else in Michigan, I want better roads. The current condition of many of our streets, highways and bridges are inexcusable, and I believe the people of our state made clear in 2018 that they want the roads fixed.

Four months after the election, my House colleagues and I eagerly waited to hear Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's plan to fix them. Well, we’ve heard it, and we are disappointed to say the least.

A person pulls a gas pump from his vehicle after filling his tank.

The proposed 45-cent gas tax increase is a non-starter for the people of Michigan. The Legislature wants to work with our new governor and find common ground, but the people we represent would never let us support such an irresponsible tax hike on hard-working families. It rightly never stood a chance.

But once you look past the headlines, the problems actually run much deeper. The simple truth is that the current proposal has three major shortcomings that any serious plan will have to address before we can move forward.

First, the people I’ve talked to have made it clear they want a plan that ensures every dollar paid at the pump actually goes to fix the roads. We all pay three different taxes at the pump, but only two are used on road repairs. No matter how much we raise through the gas tax, some of it will always be siphoned off for other projects. Until we fix that, we will never really solve our road funding crisis.

The governor’s plan would actually take this in the wrong direction. Her team wants to raise gas taxes by $2.5 billion, but only raise spending on roads by $1.9 billion. The rest would be used for her other budget priorities, doubling down on the root of our road funding problem.

Second, this proposal is trying to make up for decades of bad government spending habits by balancing the state’s budget on the backs of Michigan families, hitting our poorest residents and working people hardest of all. Michigan’s annual state budget already totals $60 billion. Our first instinct should be to ask state government to find efficiencies within existing funds, focus on improved construction methods and not to go back to the people asking for more.

Finally, the administration’s spending plan would redirect road dollars away from local and county roads and send them to a small handful of big cities. But we represent everyone in Michigan, and any plan that passes through the Legislature should make sure everyone statewide sees better, longer-lasting roads no matter where they live.

We should not be pitting our cities against our rural communities. We are one state, and we should have a one-state solution.

The Michigan House of Representatives is working right now to craft that better plan. We are building a real, long-term solution that devotes every dollar paid at the pump to roads, finds existing funds in the budget instead of simply asking for more from Michigan taxpayers, and protects local road funding for every community.

These will be the pillars of the plan we put together, because it’s the right thing to do. The people we represent do not support a 45-cent gas tax increase, and because of that, House Republicans don’t either.

I will partner with Whitmer to fix Michigan’s roads. It’s what we were elected to do. We must set party politics aside and do what’s best for the people that we serve.

A 45-cent gas tax increase is not a solution they can afford. The people of Michigan deserve a better plan, and we need to work to come up with a solution that works for them.

Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, is speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives.