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State Senate approves significant road funding increase

Massive pothole in the middle of a two-lane road.
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Legislation that is expected to raise up to $1.5 billion a year to fix Michigan’s roads has cleared the state Senate.

Depending on how the price of gas fluctuates, the legislation would effectively double the amount of tax people pay at the pump. Instead of paying cents on the gallon, drivers would pay a percentage of the wholesale price of fuel. That percentage would gradually rise to 15.5 percent between next year and 2018. Drivers currently pay 19 cents per gallon for gasoline.

House bill 5477 passed on a 23-14 vote.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, spearheaded the effort in the Senate. He says lawmakers were peppered with questions from voters about the roads while they were campaigning before last week’s election.

“So when we got back, it was one of their first priorities,” Richardville told reporters shortly after Thursday’s vote. “The governor hasn’t held back, he’s said it’s one of his top priorities, same with the speaker. So we wanted to prove that we don’t just talk about it, we do stuff. So we did something.”

“We want to fix roads and we’ll take tough votes to do it.”

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, is one of the 14 members who voted against the bill. He says the state should take the money from other areas of the budget to pay for infrastructure repairs instead of raising taxes.

“There’s a cost to our economy,” Colbeck said during his floor speech opposing the plan. “Michigan is finally on the comeback trail right now. And there’s nothing that slows down a comeback more than increasing taxes.”

The legislation now heads to the state House. It is unclear whether House leadership will take up the bill or if it has enough votes to pass.

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate rejected for the second time this year a plan to raise the state’s sales tax from six percent to seven percent and dedicate the new revenue to roads. A number of Republicans favor that method, saying the gas tax is an unsustainable way to fund infrastructure. They also say it would leave the final decision up to Michigan voters, who would have to approve the sales tax increase.

Democrats generally oppose any increase in the sales tax because they say it disproportionately hurts lower income people.