By DAVID EGGERT Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned on a bold promise to “fix the damn roads” in the capital of the U.S. auto industry, will propose nearly tripling the state’s per-gallon fuel tax, her office said this week.
The Democrat’s budget proposal, which will be a tough sell in the Republican-led Legislature, would boost the 26-cent gasoline and diesel tax by 45 cents by October 2020. The tax hikes would coincide with relief “to help offset the cost to people’s pocketbooks,” said her spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.
Whitmer wants to boost the 26-cent gasoline and diesel taxes by 15 cents in October, an additional 15 cents in April 2020 and 15 more cents in October 2020. That would generate an additional $2 billion annually. She has said drivers are already paying a “road tax” because Michigan’s pothole-ridden roadways are forcing them to shell out hundreds of dollars a year for vehicle repairs.
A top GOP lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, did not rule out a tax hike to raise additional money for roads and bridges but said his initial priority is lowering the high cost of car insurance in the state.
“He’d first like the governor to work with him and his caucus to save families money by reforming car insurance,” said his spokeswoman Amber McCann. “Then he would entertain having a discussion about new revenue for roads.”
Higher fuel and vehicle-registration fees took effect two years ago as part of Republican-enacted laws to gradually pump $1.2 billion more annually into transportation — following a failed legislator-proposed ballot initiative — but many agree it was not enough new spending. Four former legislative leaders from both parties have said fuel taxes should be increased by 47 cents over nine years.
Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of top state executives, on Monday urged legislators to act. Doug Rothwell, president of the group, stopped short of backing a specific proposal but said the roads “are an embarrassment” and are getting worse and more expensive to repair.
“We are not an organization … that likes to talk about raising taxes, and we don’t take that lightly at all,” he said. “But we’re on record saying that we need to make a significant increase in investment in our infrastructure, and that we believe user fees — which could be a gas tax — is the best and fairest way to do it.”
The state Republican Party criticized Whitmer, however, saying her proposal would “break many Michiganders’ budgets.”
Michigan drivers pay some of the country’s highest taxes at the pump, and not all the revenue raised goes to the transportation budget. The state constitution requires the sales tax on fuel to go mostly to schools and local governments.