Proposed fuel tax, vehicle fee hikes a very hard sell

It would be difficult to find any motorist who doesn’t support improving the state’s road system, but how to fund the work is what is debated.

Gov. Rick Snyder proposed a combination of hiking the state tax on gas and diesel to 33 cents per gallon from the current 19 cents on gas and 15 cents on diesel and increasing registration fees on motor vehicles and heavy trucks an average of $120 per vehicle.

High level state officials have been in the Upper Peninsula recently touting the revenue-generating proposal, including Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle and Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh.

While Creagh supports the tax and fee increases for addressing the state’s critical need to dredge harbors (2 percent of the gas tax goes to the Michigan Waterways Commission), Steudle backs the proposal for its impact on the state’s road system.

The $1.2 billion additional revenues Snyder’s plan would generate is just what Steudle said is needed annually to upgrade and maintain the roads properly.

Steudle maintains that the severe recession that set in across the nation about five years ago hit Michigan especially hard, causing the state Legislature to not invest in the state’s transportation network.

He said his “pay now” instead of “pay later” philosophy would save Michigan billions of dollars over the next 10 years, just to maintain the road system properly.

Some savings would be realized by vehicle owners as well, he contends, because inadequate roads are causing more damage to their vehicles.

Ironically, of the U.P.’s 4,229 lane miles of state roads, only 1.2 percent – or 51 lane miles – are rated as poor now, according to information provided by MDOT. However, the department predicts the number of lane miles rated as poor in the U.P. will jump to 1,334 lane miles by 2017, or 31.5 percent.

If that estimate is correct, there’s no doubt there will be a greater need to repair the roads in the region, although we’re not sure an increase in taxes on gasoline – particularly in an area of the state where we pay extremely high gas prices – nor a hike in already high vehicle registration fees are the correct routes to take.