Opinion: Road plans tax wallets, patience and memory

Patrick Colbeck
High quality roads are within reach without increasing taxes, Colbeck writes.

First came Proposal 1 of 2015. On May 5, 2015, a 1% sales tax hike to fix our roads was rejected by 81% of voters. Former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, and the majority of the Legislature ignored voters and passed a $600 million tax hike. 

But this tax hike wasn’t enough for the Little Shop of Horrors, known as Lansing state government, screaming “feed me.”

To kick off her new tenure, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed a 45-cent gas tax hike proposal to fix the roads. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is proposing a 20-cent gas tax hike. 

Does either party’s leadership remember the bipartisan gas tax “rejection at the hoop” of Proposal 1 by voters in 2015?

Anytime the Legislature and governor fail to live within their means and prioritize spending, they kick that responsibility to each of us. I for one am tired of their lack of responsibility.

What didn’t get much notice a few years back is that within months of passing a $600 million gas tax hike to ostensibly fix the roads, the state quietly passed a budget “supplemental” bill which transferred $400 million in general funds from the transportation budget to backfill potholes in Medicaid Expansion (aka Healthy Michigan or Obamacare expansion). 

You see, the gas tax increase was never truly about our roads. It was about leveraging what is a hot button issue to voters (i.e. the lousy condition of our roads) so that they could have more “walking around money” for other priorities aligned with so-called “special” interests.

Higher quality roads are the real answer, but lobbyists and pundits in Lansing over the past nine years have been successful in convincing the majority of our elected officials that more revenue is the only solution. 

Fine. If you are among those fixated on throwing more money at roads, then let Healthy Michigan repeal itself. That would free up much more than the $400 million repurposed a few years back. It could free up as much as $1.2 billion in additional funding for roads — all without increasing taxes. After all, Healthy Michigan was the primary beneficiary of the last gas tax hike. 

As it turns out, Healthy Michigan is not very healthy. The Senate Fiscal Agency forecast that the conditions which invoke the auto-repeal provisions baked in the legislation will be satisfied in 2020.

The key question is: Will the auto-repeal provisions of existing law be enforced?

Enrollees in Healthy Michigan would be much better served if we were to lower the cost of health care by repealing Certificate of Need and promoting higher quality primary care delivery models such as Direct Primary Care.

No more games. If Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature want more money for roads, they simply need to stop reaching into our wallets and do something quite novel — follow our existing law.

Patrick Colbeck is a former Michigan state senator.