Prospects appear dim for passage of state-wide proposal for roads

There is good and bad in tPaving roadshe state-wide ballot proposal on behalf of roads in a special election May 5, but in the end it doesn’t matter because the smart money is betting that it will fail.

The good is that the proposed increase in the state sales tax from six to seven cents on the dollar would result in finally getting something done for the state ranked as having the worst roads in the nation. The House Fiscal Agency estimated that the sales tax increase would generate more than $1.6 billion per year, with $1.2 billion going to roads, $130 million to mass transit, $300 million to the school aid fund and $95 million to local governments.

Another perceived benefit is that the sales tax would be eliminated from all purchases of gasoline, so that that all taxes at the pump would be dedicated to fixing roads.

The Allegan Co0unty Road Commission is solidly behind the proposal, with Engineer-Manager Larry Brown telling the Watson Township Board earlier this month, “It would be a substantial increase for us.”

The down side is that the State Legislature dragged its feet on this issue for not just years, but decades. Michigan has had problems with road funding ever since passage of Proposal A in 1994, a sales tax increase that was supposed to be a panacea for what ailed school aid funding. And here we are today, more than 20 years later, yet local public schools are still pleading poverty.

Raising taxes for public schools and for fixing roads is a big chunk of the reasons why we have taxes at all. As I have stated so often before, taxes provide services that we cannot individually purchase ourselves. But somehow we have been conned into thinking they are evil.

Our roads have fallen on hard times since those heady days of President Eisenhouwer, a Republican who oversaw some of the greatest road-building projects in our history. Building roads creates jobs besides enabling us to get where we need to go. But it seems we don’t want to pay for them.

Virtually all the publicity I’ve seen about the special election ballot proposal has been disheartening. People whom I trust as being savvy about elections are saying this proposal very likely will be rejected at the polls. I blame the salesmen and saleswomen, also known as state legislators. They fiddled with this for so long and still couldn’t come up with a plan.

Leighton Township resident Steve Shoemaker last fall asked State Rep. Ken Yonker why he and his Republican colleagues, who have controlled the State Senate, the State House and the governor’s chair for the past four years, couldn’t come to some kind of an agreement on road funding. They finally did last December during a Lame Duck session, but all they did was put the ball in the voters’ court, kick the can down the road.

To be sure, raising the state sales tax can only be done by a state-wide vote, but there were other options. One could have been an increase in the state income tax, which for many years was 4.6%, but since the great tax-cutting days of the Engler Administration, has been reduced to as low as 3.9%.

In my view, the income tax is the fairest of all because it’s based on your ability to pay. The sales tax penalizes you for buying something, therefore, when economic times aren’t good, state revenue suffers. Furthermore, when the sales tax went from four to six cents on the dollar after Proposal A in 1994, anyone not rich enough to own property got socked with a 50% tax increase without any property tax relief.

It’s this history of fiddling while Michigan’s roads deteriorated that rankles me, and I suppose many others. In the end, I will support the proposal, but I understand why many other voters won’t. So, in the end, what we will have is another example of kicking the can down the road, no resolution to a serious problem and, God forbid, worthy local proposals that will be rejected as well on that fateful day of May 5.

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