Editorial: Final week agenda in Lansing

The Detroit News

Lawmakers have just one job to do in this final week of their lame duck legislative session: pass a bill to fix the state's roads. Or perhaps two jobs: pass a roads bill and don't do anything stupid.

A conference committee made up of the leaders of the House and Senate is working to reconcile two vastly different transportation proposals. The Senate version is by far the preferable measure.

It would convert the retail fuel tax to a wholesale tax and raise the rate, eventually bringing in the $1.5 billion needed to smooth Michigan's roads and keep them that way.

The House version is more convoluted, and less certain to generate the necessary revenue. It would dedicate the 6 percent sales tax on fuel to road work. The money is currently diverted to schools and revenue sharing for local communities.

Sponsors of the House plan would replace the school and local money with future growth in sales tax revenue. School officials, naturally, are wary of that proposal, as they should be. There's no certainty growth will be as robust as the sponsors predict.

To save their bill, House members have been scrambling to come up with ways of bolstering sales tax revenue. That's where the "don't do anything stupid" part comes in.

One dumb idea that surfaced last week is to extend the sales tax to so-called road-related services.

That means -- to start -- freight delivery services such as UPS and Fed-Ex. But the obvious pitfall is that it could ultimately be stretched to cover a wide variety of other services, such as taxis, pizza delivery, and so on.

The unlimited potential of the service tax was what killed it when it was proposed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Bad idea then, bad idea now.

There is some merit, however, in the Main Street Fairness legislation, which would place the sales tax on purchases made over the Internet from companies with a physical presence in Michigan. However, estimating the amount of revenue potential is difficult.

In the end, House negotiators will have to come to the reality that new revenue will have to be raised to do the much-needed road work, and the fairest place to get it is by raising fuel taxes.


It's a long-shot, but the other piece of business the Legislature should deal with this week is expanding the state civil rights act.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Jase Bolger declared dead the Republican-backed bill to add the words "sexual orientation" to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. But nothing's over until the end of the session Thursday night, and lawmakers shouldn't waste a good opportunity make this sensible addition.

No one feels this more strongly than bill sponsor Rep. Frank Foster, R-Petoskey, who says he's holding out hope his bill will make it to a floor vote. The bill is currently stuck in the Commerce Committee, which he chairs. Foster says he only needs one or two more votes to move the bill out of committee. Republicans and Democrats have been in a standoff over whether the words "gender identity" should also be added to the law.

Bolger could discharge Foster's bill out of committee without a vote and put it before the full chamber. He should do it.