Michigans Transportation Funding System
I recently attended a meeting sponsored by the Monroe County Road Commission to discuss the funding challenges facing Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. Participants included representatives from the Michigan Department of Transportation, local elected officials and dozens of county residents. While their concerns may have been different on the specifics, the theme could not have been any clearer: Fix Our Roads!
Government and business leaders agree that a reliable and safe transportation system is essential for attracting job providers, stimulating the economy, and improving the productivity of the state’s workers. As with all government programs and priorities, our challenge is funding urgent repairs and necessary expansions without creating an untenable burden on taxpayers.
From the federal government down to the smallest rural villages in Michigan, there exists an ever-growing gap between desired road projects and the ability to pay for them. My goal is to help you, the people of the 17th Senate District, better understand the complex nature of these problems.
Road funding in Michigan generally comes from three sources: the federal government (which are tax dollars that we pay at the pump), the state’s gasoline tax of 19 cents per gallon (only 15 cents per gallon for diesel fuel), and vehicle registration fees. Unfortunately, for every dollar that Michigan residents send to Washington, D.C. in the form of motor fuel tax revenues, we receive 92 cents based on a complex federal funding formula. Making matters worse, according to a recent MDOT study, Michigan has higher traffic volumes than all but eight states and carries 27 percent of all North American land-based trade. It is simply unacceptable for a state so vital to the economic and national security interests of this country to rank near the very bottom of the funding scale.
As outrageous as it may seem, this is actually an improvement over previous years, thanks to the hard work of Michigan’s congressional delegation and state officials. The current formula expires on September 30, 2009 and must be reauthorized by Congress to continue funding transportation projects around the country. I urge Gov. Granholm to take an increased interest in working with the Obama administration and Congress to further correct this inequity.
The federal government’s role, however, in the transportation funding issue is just one part of a multi-faceted problem. To address this looming crisis at the state level, the Michigan Legislature passed, and Gov. Granholm signed legislation creating the Michigan Transportation Funding Task Force in 2007. The task force, comprised of 13 members representing every aspect of the state’s transportation infrastructure community, was charged with reviewing the adequacy of the current system and determining innovative ways to maximize the return on taxpayer investment.
Late last year, the task force issued its final report, which concluded that Michigan has the eighth worst road system based on overall performance; is 16th in the nation based on the number of deficient bridges; has the fourth worst rural interstate conditions; has the eighth worst urban interstate conditions; and is eighth in congested roads in urbanized areas. To read more about this report and the proposed solutions, access my Web site at: www.SenatorRandyRichardville.com.
I remain deeply concerned about the poor return Monroe County gets on its contribution to the Michigan Transportation Fund. Just as Michigan is a “donor state” to the federal government, Monroe County is a “donor county” to the state’s coffers, basically adding insult to injury. Under Public Act 51, funds are distributed to Michigan’s 83 counties, in part, using route miles as opposed to annual vehicle miles traveled. The problem with route miles is that a lightly traveled rural two-lane road in northern Michigan is treated exactly the same as a heavily traveled multiple-lane road in Monroe County, earning us a ranking of 79th in the state on a per capita basis.
These unfair numbers help explain the public’s resistance to proposals, such as adding nine cents to the state’s gasoline tax or doubling the state’s vehicle registration fees. I strongly oppose the nine-cent increase, as suggested by the House last term, or increased registration fees. I do not want to create an additional burden on residents or businesses in Monroe County. To address the problem of Monroe being a donor county, I have introduced Senate Resolution 23 that calls upon the members of the Transportation Funding Task Force to make a recommendation that the $1.5 billion in state funding be distributed based on a more equitable formula.
Finally, we should look at the potential for local solutions. Because so much of the work on our roads is performed on local roads and by local road agencies, state law gives county governments the ability to place millage requests on the ballot for voter approval. Though I’m not one to support tax increases by the Legislature, this could be a reasonable way to make needed improvements to the areas rapidly deteriorating roads if the voters decide that is the best option. Approval of a 1-mill increase 10 years ago would have injected more than $52 million into the counties roads during that time. For voters to approve paying more taxes for their roads, those of us in leadership positions must continue enhancing our ability to spend the dollars we already have efficiently and improve our responsiveness to the public’s concerns.
These are challenging times for Michigan, but I am confident that we can work together at the local, state, and federal levels to address these issues without taking more of your hard-earned money. I look forward to hearing continued input from the citizens of the 17th Senate District as the Legislature debates the crucial economic impact of reforming and updating Michigan’s transportation network.
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Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009
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