Editorial: Michigan still looking for a real roads plan

The Detroit News

With the state House offering a plan last week that barely qualifies as a starting point in the discussion of how to pay for fixing Michigan's roads, it will be up to the Senate — and ultimately Gov. Rick Snyder — to do the hard work of crafting a legitimate solution.

The House version outlined by Speaker Kevin Cotter steadfastly avoids any tax increase and largely counts on growth in future tax revenue to raise road money.

Since road projects are generally the product of a five year plan, trying to guess how much revenues are going to increase — if at all — over that period is unrealistic and risky. The many gimmicks and fund shifts that will require a chain reaction of supporting legislation also make Cotter's proposal impractical.

So now it's the Senate's turn. Senate leaders are expected either this week or next to produce their version of a transportation bill.

If it follows the path the Senate took last fall, it will be closer to a real solution than what the House is offering.

The Senate recognized that there aren't enough places to find funds in the current budget to produce the amount of money Michigan needs to make its roads safe as well as competitive in attracting jobs and business.

Senators showed some leadership in that session by passing a bill that would have basically doubled the statutory fuel tax.

The plan called for replacing the 19-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and 15-cent-per-gallon diesel tax with a wholesale tax that would start at 9.5 percent and increase over four years to 15.5 percent by Jan. 1, 2018.

It ultimately would have raised an extra $1.2 billion annually.

Snyder backed the Senate plan, but the House rejected it, leading to the mess that was Proposal 1 reaching the ballot and going down to crushing defeat earlier this month.

The lame duck Senate plan should be revived and presented as a grown-up alternative to what the House has presented.

It is a fair plan that will not overburden taxpayers but will meet the state's infrastructure needs for decades to come.

Many current senators, including Majority Leader Arlan Meekof, backed the measure when it passed last fall. They should adopt some form of it now as their response to the House proposal.

If they don't, and instead go in the direction of the House in pretending the roads crisis can be solved with fantasy dollars, then Gov. Rick Snyder should present the old Senate plan himself and battle for it in the Legislature.

The proposal is a true starting point for debate. If the House can come up with realistic spending cuts or find additional revenue in pools that can be legally raided to reduce the amount the gas tax must be raised, all the better.

But for now the road debate begins without a legitimate plan on the table. The Senate should change that this week.

And if it doesn't the governor will have to do it himself, and wrestle the Legislature to reality.