By Andrew Merkle
Ingham County Chronicle Staff Reporter
They say there are two things guaranteed in life: death and taxes. In Michigan it might be safe to add a third: deteriorating roads. The condition of roads continues to worsen across the state and the nation, and lawmakers have pondered ways to fix the problem.
The Michigan Department of Transportation published a reality check about the condition of Michigan’s roads. The report produced by MDOT showed that from 2004-2012 the amount of roads in good and fair condition has decreased. During that same span, the percentage of roads in bad condition has increased nearly threefold.
Another report released by MDOT showed that of all the Great Lakes States, Michigan was dead last in investment per capita in roads in 2010. Michigan invested just $154 per capita which was $60 fewer than the next cheapest state (Ohio).
A difference of $60 per person may not sound like much, but that adds up over time and Ohio saw more than $1 billion more invested into its roads annually than Michigan, according to MDOT.
The roads in Michigan deserve to be taken care of, and the citizens driving on these roads would certainly enjoy seeing some improvements. But how should the state go about raising funds to repair the miles and miles of winter-damaged streets?
Virginia is another state that has recently tried to raise funds to repair its roads. The Washington Post reported in 2013 that Virginia was planning to replace its flat tax of 17.5 cents per gallon of gasoline with a 3.5 percent tax on wholesale gasoline sales.
Virginia’s website for the Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that the proposition was passed into law and took effect beginning July 1, 2013.
In an attempt to raise funds to repair damaged roads in Michigan, lawmakers offered residents Proposal 1. Among other things, Proposal 1 would have increased the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent across the state, according to the Detroit Free Press. Proposal 1 was defeated by voters in May, 2015.
Dr. Kenneth Boyer, an adjunct professor at Michigan State University who is an expert in highway and public transportation funding and transportation economics, weighed in on some of the methods other states have used and offered his own opinion on what would work best in Michigan.
Fuel taxes, like what Virginia decided to do in 2013, are not a long-term solution according to Boyer.
“Cars are getting more fuel efficient and are being replaced by cars that use no fuel, thus avoiding using road usage fees,” Boyer said. “Higher fuel taxes are clearly called for in the short run, followed by a movement to EZ pass types of collection systems for mileage-based fees.”
Boyer disagreed with Proposal 1, saying that an increased sales tax is not the best method for funding road repair because an increased sales tax misleads drivers into thinking that there is no cost to the public when using the road.
So what should be done?
“A mileage tax,” Boyer said. “This is my preferred solution since it sends correct signals to drivers on the costs of their decisions.
“For example, if roads are paid for with a tax on buying groceries or clothing rather than the cost of driving, driving becomes under-priced, thus causing people to make inefficient decisions on where to live and work and what mode of transportation to use to get to work or shopping.”