Editorial: State can't lose sight of fixing roads
This time of year, driving on Michigan’s roads and freeways is a gamble. Gaping potholes and other obstacles are a constant threat — and expense. Michiganians know well the problem, and it’s going to take a large infusion of dollars to smooth the state’s roadways. The question is how best to make that happen.
A new group led by former state lawmakers is posing a solution for Michigan’s roads, with the hope that this will jump-start much-needed action to address neglected infrastructure.
The Michigan Consensus Policy Project announced last week what it’s calling a “comprehensive road funding proposal.” This effort is in collaboration with the Center for Michigan.
Former Republican Sen. Ken Sikkema and former Democratic Sen. Bob Emerson are co-chairing the effort, and have been working on their plan for much of the past year. They have also brought on board former GOP House Speaker Paul Hillegonds and former Lt. Gov. John Cherry, who served under Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
“We have the worst roads in the country, and they have to be fixed,” says Sikkema. “We’ve been working on a patchwork basis for years — that’s the problem. Everyone has identified the problem, but not the solution.”
Sikkema, who worked on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, is reviving many of the proposals that commission had set forth in its 2016 report. As is the case with these studies, they often get shelved and ignored.
The project's members have a bold (and costly) proposal: a hefty increase to the state’s gas and diesel fuel tax, which would take effect gradually over nine years. By year nine, drivers would be paying an additional 47 cents per gallon.
Expect that to get a lot of pushback from Republicans in the Legislature — and citizens who don’t want that extra burden every time they fill up at the pump.
Sikkema and Emerson say they understand the challenges of putting this kind of tax hike in place. Snyder pushed to do so for years, and couldn’t get lawmakers to sign on to a comprehensive solution. The Legislature passed several emergency stopgap measures, but nothing that would make up for years of under-funding road repairs.
The Infrastructure Commission found that the state needed to invest an additional $2.6 billion annually to fix and maintain the state’s roads and bridges. This new proposal adds in another $100 million for local streets and roads, for a total of $2.7 billion.
Part of why this is a hard sell for taxpayers is that Michigan already has the fifth highest gas tax in the country — yet we still have the worst roads. If the group’s proposed tax increase were to go into effect, Michigan would have the highest gas tax by a large margin.
That’s going to take an education campaign, explaining where the money has gone in the past and why more is needed.
What’s most refreshing is to see a bipartisan coalition like this offering solutions. Current lawmakers could learn from the wisdom these fellows have garnered from their years in legislative leadership.