Editorial: Cheers for the gas tax hike

The Detroit News

It’s not often that we get geeked about the arrival of new taxes and fees. But the hike in fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees that kicked in Sunday marks the start of what should be a sustained effort to improve Michigan’s infrastructure.

And that ultimately will make the state more competitive, and more livable.

Anyone who has filled up at the pump this week has likely noticed the sudden increase in prices. Per gallon gasoline taxes jumped seven cents.

Or perhaps you didn’t notice. Fuel prices have moved up and down so sharply for the past couple of years that there’s rarely been a long stretch when costs are stable.

And for motorists who not so long ago paid upward of $4 a gallon for gasoline, the current range of $2 to $2.50 seems affordable, even with the additional tax.

Along with the gas tax hike, vehicle registration fees climbed 20 percent.

The higher taxes and fees will raise an additional $450 million a year to fix roads and bridges across the state. And it will be adjusted each year for inflation starting in 2022, meaning the state should not fall behind in road funding in future years.

It is the largest increase for roads and bridges in 50 years, according to Gov. Rick Snyder, and the first hike in the gasoline tax in 20 years. And it’s the first major vehicle fee increase since 1983.

This is a solid investment in Michigan’s future.

Deteriorating roads and bridges are dangerous. They damage vehicles and increase the risk of accidents.

They also impact Michigan’s competitiveness. Other places don’t have such poor highways. Visitors to Michigan notice immediately the horrible condition of the roads.

An investor looking to bring jobs and development here would not get a favorable impression of the state’s viability by driving a few miles on most of our freeways.

Any tax hike is painful. But this one is necessary, and should save motorists money in the long term in the form of fewer car repair bills.

The reality is that this tax doesn’t even come close to meeting Michigan’s highway needs.

Snyder had pushed to raise $1.2 billion in new road funds, or nearly three times what these taxes and fees will generate. But this is all the Legislature would provide.

A recent report from a commission studying the state’s infrastructure needs determined it would take $4 billion a year for 20 years to repair and maintain the state’s roadways and bridges, sewer and water lines and communications networks.

This is our bill to pay, if we want a state that works as well as it should.

Raising that kind of money can’t be done through taxes alone, although more tax revenue must be part of the equation.

Michigan also has to take a serious look at its spending priorities.

It has been too easy over the decades to put off necessary infrastructure investment, particularly for unseen underground water and sewage lines.

But the recent massive Fraser sinkhole, caused by the collapse of a sewage pipe, demonstrates what can happen when maintenance and upgrades are ignored.