LANSING, Mich. — Four former legislative leaders said Thursday that Michigan's per-gallon gasoline and diesel taxes should be increased by 47 cents over nine years to fix deteriorating roads with an additional $2.5 billion in annual spending.
The bipartisan proposal will face resistance in a Republican-led Legislature that previously raised fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, effective in 2017.
But the ex-leaders, including Democrat Bob Emerson and Republican Ken Sikkema, said it is important to actually improve road conditions instead of trying to do so with half-measures. They said an extra $1.2 billion in transportation funding that is being phased in under 2015 laws falls far short, making the problem worse in the long term and forcing drivers to pay for car damage caused by shoddy roads. Lawmakers, they contended, paid no political price in recent elections for boosting road taxes.
"The problem hasn't been solved, and it needs to be solved," said Sikkema, who served as Senate majority leader from 2003 through 2006.
The plan calls for hiking the 26-cents-a-gallon gasoline and diesel taxes by 7 cents in 2020, followed by yearly 5-cent increases through 2028.
Emerson, an ex-Senate minority leader and former state budget director, said no one lost an election in 2016 or 2018 because the gas tax was raised by 7 cents. Others backing the proposal include former Lt. Gov. John Cherry, a Democrat and former Senate minority leader, and ex-Republican House Speaker Paul Hillegonds.
"The only thing I ever heard about was more talk about fixing the damn roads and more talk about health care," Cherry said, referencing Gretchen Whitmer's pledge in her 2018 campaign to smooth the roads. The new Democratic governor called for spending $3 billion more on infrastructure by increasing "user fees" by an unspecified amount or by asking voters to approve a bond.
Her office declined to comment Thursday on the proposed 47-cent fuel tax increase, saying it will not discuss budget items until she presents her first spending proposal in March.
Current Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, did not embrace the proposal, however.
It "assumes a large increase in the gas tax is a sustainable solution to road funding, but advances in automotive technology make gas taxes an undesirable long-term solution," he said in a statement. "All the proposed increase does is place a greater burden on families and household budgets without solving road funding for the future."
The proposal was released in conjunction with the announced formation of the Michigan Policy Consensus Project, which was launched in collaboration with the nonprofit Center for Michigan. The project, which is co-chaired by Emerson and Sikkema, will offer "consensus" policy recommendations in Lansing at a time of divided government.
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