Editorial: House plan falls short, but offers some hope

The Detroit News

The Michigan House produced a road funding plan that falls well short of what's needed to repair and maintain Michigan's bridges and highways. But don't dismiss the entire proposal.

There are some worthwhile elements to what the representatives offered, and those could provide the starting point for a more realistic agreement.

Critics are correct that too much of the House plan relies on anticipated revenue that may never materialize, and that it strips too much money from other important spending priorities. And as a whole, it has little chance of getting through the Senate or obtaining the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder.

As Business Leaders for Michigan CEO Doug Rothwell said: "Michigan needs a permanent, long-term solution to increase road repair funding without raiding the General Fund and hurting other critical priorities that are important to our economy."

Again, the House plan doesn't meet that objective. But certain pieces of it do.

For example, the House would bring parity to diesel and gasoline taxes. Currently, diesel — burned by most commercial vehicles — is 15 cents per gallon, four cents lower than the gasoline tax. Any credible road funding solution requires matching the diesel tax to the gasoline tax.

And while it passed by a very narrow margin, it did pass. That's notable for a House that has been entrenched in its resistance to any tax hikes to fund roads, and is an important first step.

The proposal also increases registration fees for electric vehicles by $100 a year and by $30 a year for hybrids that get at least 40 mpg. This is simple fairness.

Electric vehicles use the roads, but because they don't burn gasoline, their drivers contribute very little to road maintenance. The vehicles are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Their owners should help pay the costs of the roads they drive on.

Included as well is a restoration of many of the work quality guarantees included in Proposal 1, the sales tax hike that was defeated last month by a 4-to-1 margin. Contractors would have to provide stiffer warranties for their work, and more competitive bidding would be required on contracts.

House members would raise a large chunk of the $1.2 billion by gutting the rest of the General Fund budget. Their cuts are too severe, and fall too heavily on the wrong places — economic development, tax breaks for the working poor — but the reality is that some of the revenue will have to come from General Fund spending cuts. From a practical standpoint, an all-tax solution went out the door with the trouncing of Prop 1.

This plan now goes to the Senate, where it will hopefully be reshaped into a long-term, realistic solution that raises real dollars to fix roads and keep them fixed.

That will mean broader tax hikes than what the House has offered. But at least the representatives have inched in a direction that could produce a workable compromise.

It's not much progress, but it is some. Given how stalemated the Legislature has been on this issue, any progress is encouraging.