Finley: Democrats sink Whitmer's 45-cent gas tax

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is banging on legislative Republicans for not acting on her proposal to raise the fuel tax by 45 cents per gallon to fix Michigan's dismal roads.

But lawmakers from her own party have already taken her legs out and assured that her plan to raise $2.5 billion for roads and education is not just dead on arrival, but may not arrive at all in the Legislature.

"The fuel tax remains the most honest and efficient way of funding the work."

House Democrats presented their plan for funding road work, and it is further away from what the Democratic governor is demanding than the ideas being kicked around by Republicans.

Democrats would raise just $1.2 billion in new revenue, slightly less than half of what Whitmer wants. And they'd take the money not from the users of highways, as their governor proposes, but from corporations. Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said the caucus wanted to present additional options to a tax hike, which they may still consider.  

Republicans, by contrast, are reportedly looking for more than $1.5 billion in new money. And while they are balking at a huge fuel tax hike, they have conceded that raising user fees should be on the table. GOP lawmakers also are exploring diverting money from other spending priorities to roads, shifting the sales tax on gasoline to the transportation budget and selling state assets.

Republicans may consider a fuel tax increase, but there's no way they'd allow a vote on the bill from the Democratic House to fix the roads by wrecking the state's business climate.

Democrats have a one-size-fits-all solution for every need: Tax corporations. But the old adage holds true that corporations don't pay taxes, they pass them along to their customers, either in the form of higher prices for goods and services or in lost jobs and economic growth for their communities.

Whitmer is right that users should pay for the roads. The fuel tax remains the most honest and efficient way of funding the work.

Whitmer can't deliver her proposal in bill form directly to the Legislature; it has to be introduced by a lawmaker. She says she has Democrats willing to sponsor the gas tax, but prefers they wait until an agreement is closer to being hatched.

It's clear that Democrats are reluctant to carry her water on the plan. The 45-cent gasoline tax remains overwhelmingly unpopular with the Michigan voters lawmakers of both parties will have to face in 2020.   

Democrats are also undermining the governor's effort to create a sense of urgency about road funding by shaming Republican leaders into scrapping the summer vacation schedule and keeping lawmakers in session until a deal is done.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said the entire legislative body doesn't need to hang around Lansing waiting for leaders to forge an agreement.

FILE - Michigan Senate minority leader Jim Ananich makes a point as the Senate re-convenes after the holiday break Wednesday January 10, 2018 in the Capitol in Lansing .

And he's right. 

Sweating in the Capitol won't force a deal. That will take Democrats and Republicans settling on clear starting positions, and then bargaining toward the middle. As of now, Democrats aren't even close to a unified strategy for "fixing the damn roads."

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