Lawmakers look for alternatives to Proposal 1

With an overwhelming amount of voters striking down Proposal 1 Tuesday, legislators are faced with the challenge of finding another source for repairing Michigan’s roads. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

With an overwhelming amount of voters striking down Proposal 1 Tuesday, legislators are faced with the challenge of finding another source for repairing Michigan’s roads. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

After the overwhelming rejection of the Proposal 1, state lawmakers are back to the drawing board.

Had the state amendment passed, Michiganders would have not only seen an increases state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, but an increase in registration fees for vehicles and an increase in the state’s gas tax from 19 cents per gallon to about 42 cents.

More than 89 percent of St. Clair County voters rejected the tax increases.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, said he believes there needs to be cuts elsewhere in the state’s budget to raise the additional $1.3 billion needed to repair Michigan’s roads.

“We need to find a solution without raising taxes. It’s going to be about reprioritizing our $53 billion budget. We need to look at whether we need those programs that don’t return an investment and aren’t a priority for citizens.”

Proposal 1 was produced in late December after talks failed to generate a consensus between the House and Senate over how to raise additional taxes for roads.

Lawmakers looked at everything from raising gas taxes to massive hikes in vehicle registration fees and small-dollar revenue generators, such as slapping truckers and electric vehicle owners with additional taxes.

Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, said the starting point should be taking the sales tax that goes elsewhere and commit it to roads.

“People want to see the solution to roads to be concentrated on roads,” Lauwers said. “We had to improvise with other parties at the time. I hope everyone gets the message from the voters.”

That message, according to Lauwers, was that an increase in funding should only go toward roads.

Speaking with voters, Lauwers said they were either confused by the language, they did not want a tax increase or they felt Proposal 1 involved too many programs and funds.

Proposal 1 contained multiple triggers to increase the sales tax, fuel taxes and registration fees to boost revenue for road repairs, education, municipalities and provide a tax credit for low-income families.

Lauwers said it could take more than one attempt to get a road funding solution that voters will accept.

“If you are going to increase funding it has to be strictly for roads. It cannot include tax credits for other government budgets,” Lauwers said. “Hopefully, we can get other parties to agree and not get bogged down by special interest groups interested in roads.”

Kirk Weston, managing director for St. Clair County Road Commission, said he expected the proposal to fail because it was slated as a roads issue, but had other items that made it hard to explain to the voters.

“Hopefully when Lansing meets again, they take the time to look a little closer and understand what the real issues are,” Weston said.

Weston said the road commission will not be affected immediately, but he does foresee a problem with future roads projects.

“We are starting to see increases in prices that we haven’t seen before — especially projects that include drainage, bridge or culvert structures,” he said. “Material cost and the cost to do work are starting to climb.”

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley took to Facebook Wednesday to give his thoughts on the downfall of Proposal 1.

The next steps Calley has in mind for developing a plan to fix roads would be to limit the solution to transportation, lower the size of a potential increase in taxes and make it as simple as possible.

“I’ve seen a lot of interpretations regarding the outcome of Proposal 1, but with that kind of margin of loss, it is clear that multiple reasons came together to bring about the result,” he stated. “Interestingly, the resolve to find a roads solution seems stronger now than it was a year ago, which is encouraging.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 6, 2015)

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