Editorial: Gas price drop should fuel road deal

The Detroit News
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Every downward tick at the gasoline pump is another opportunity for Michigan to solve its road funding crisis.

Low gas prices could allow Michigan to fund road repairs by hiking its fuel tax.

Gasoline prices plunged in the state this week after an Indiana oil refinery came back in service following emergency repairs. Both long-term and short-term projections are for the lower prices to become the new normal.

Prices are already 66 cents a gallon lower than they were a year ago, according to AAA Michigan, and industry experts are predicting they could fall below $2 a gallon by Halloween.

For motorist who recall when the per-gallon price pushed toward $4 just two years ago, that’s a tremendous relief. And it should make them more receptive to raising prices slightly to fix roads that are damaging their vehicles and threatening their safety.

Tacking on 15 cents to a $2 gallon of gasoline would still leave the price well below the high water mark, and way under the point at which motorists change their habits to avoid the high costs.

This does not appear to be just a temporary reprieve. Falling worldwide oil prices and a glut of oil on the U.S. market should keep fuel costs in this depressed range for at least the next year.

Advancements in drilling technology assure that U.S. production can continue at its current high levels for decades to come. In addition, the lifting of sanctions against Iran means that country’s petroleum will be more readily available on world markets.

Oil is currently selling for below $40 a gallon, well under the $104 level it reached in 2013.The World Bank Commodity Forecast projects that while prices will slowly rise, they will remain under $100 a barrel through 2025. So a return to $4 a gallon gasoline would seem a long way off.

Michigan motorists became accustomed to paying $3.50 a gallon or more for most of the first half of this decade. Anything under $3 a gallon seems like a bargain in comparison.

The political fallout of raising gasoline taxes in a $2-a-gallon era are much less than they would be when prices are soaring.

A 15-cent hike in Michigan’s fuel tax will raise roughly $750 million for road repairs. It is the most efficient means of funding the roads, and the only revenue source that is guaranteed by the state Constitution to be used for that purpose.

When lawmakers return to Lansing next month, pump prices likely will be 30 cents or more lower than when they adjourned after their brief and unsuccessful session last week.

It is an excellent opportunity to end the road funding stalemate without inflicting undue pain on taxpayers.

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