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Gov. Whitmer proposes 45 cent fuel tax increase to fix Michigan's roads

a gas pump
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Gasoline prices are expected to take another big leap this week in Michigan.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made fixing the state’s roads a cornerstone of her 2018 campaign. Now, she’s revealed exactly how she wants to pay for that campaign promise.

On Tuesday, Whitmer presented her first budget proposal. It includes a plan to gradually increase the state’s gas and diesel tax at the pump until it's increased by 45 cents per gallon. That would raise the fuel tax at the pump to a total of 71.3 cents per gallon by October of 2020.

Whitmer says Michigan residents are already paying a road tax – in the form of flat tires and other car problems caused by the state’s pothole-ridden roads.

“And this is the worst kind of road tax you can pay, because it doesn’t actually fix the roads,” she said.

Opponents say increasing the fuel tax by that much will drive people out of the state and is too much for most Michigan residents to pay. Senator Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) is on the state Senate Appropriations Committee. He says he’s going to wait and get more details before deciding if he’s on board.

“I think certainly it’s a starting point. It’s the governor’s first budget; go big or go home," Schmidt said with a laugh. "Certainly a lot bigger than I originally anticipated.”

Several times throughout her presentation, Whitmer asked the Republican-majority Legislature to not “kick the can down the road” when tackling the state’s problems.

“This is about one historic vote. I know how difficult your job is, I had your job," Whitmer said. "I’m not asking something that is easy, I get that.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told Stateside that he did see some areas in the governor's proposed budget where Democrats and Republicans could reach an agreement, but he also noted there were a few areas "that are not small conflicts."

Shirkey noted that two subsequent administations have reached the same conclusion as Whitmer when it comes to road funding. That conclusion is that the state needs a considerable amount of money - about $1.5 billion more in new annual funding, according to Whitmer's budget - to fix the roads.

However, Shirkey believes that those funds can be raised without hitting Michiganders with a 45-cent fuel tax increase at the pump. One of his potential solutions involves addressing high auto insurance costs. 

"Now if we prove, and I believe we have an obligation to do so, prove that we can save people money first, then I think the conversation of asking people to spend more money on things as important roads will be a much different conversation," Shirkey explained.

You can hear Shirkey’s full interview with Stateside host Cynthia Cantyhere.

In addition to increasing the fuel tax, Whitmer also wants to offset the costs for low-income working families by doubling the earned income tax credit, getting rid of the state’s pension tax, and investing more money in drinking water protection.

The budget is still in its early stages. The Legislature now has to work out its own plan and find consensus with the governor.

Listen above to Stateside's interview Zach Gorchow of Gongwer News, and Michigan Radio's political analyst Zoe Clark for more breakdown of the Governor's budget.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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