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June 24, 2019 1:15 PM, EDT

Michigan Transportation Bills Focus on Taxes, Truck Tolling

Michigan A rural road in Michigan. (Michigan Farm Bureau)

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Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives have introduced transportation funding bills that would place additional taxes and tolls on trucks.

Lawmakers presented four bills June 20 that outline fundraising proposals that would help repair Michigan’s roads. The package of bills was put forward with the message “If You Break It, You Buy It.”

One of the bills would create a vehicle-miles-traveled tax of 6 cents per mile on trucks that weigh at least 26,000 pounds. Another would establish a bridge toll program that would apply only to trucks. It’s not clear which bridges would be tolled or how steep those rates would be.

“From a philosophical basis, I think we would oppose that proposal by the Democratic caucus,” said Walter Heinritzi, executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association.

A third bill in the transportation legislation package would increase the corporate income tax rate. The fourth bill would create the Fixing Michigan Roads fund, into which revenue generated from the VMT and corporate income taxes would flow.

“We know we need better roads. We know we need better schools. We know we need clean water for all. And we know the solution to ensuring those things and it’s adequately funding them,” said Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), who sponsored the truck-toll bill, in a statement. “Unfortunately, these budgets don’t do that. Luckily, this is just one step in an ongoing process, and that’s why my colleagues and I sent a clear message today that we’re going to stand up for everyday Michiganders and demand something better.”

The legislation proposing a truck-only toll bears a resemblance to Rhode Island’s truck-tolling program. The first two (of an eventual 13) truck-tolling gantries in Rhode Island became operational in June 2018.

Rhode Island’s truck-only tolling system is part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program, which is projected to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects such as bridge replacements and road improvements. Members of the freight community, including the Rhode Island Trucking Association and American Trucking Associations, have vehemently fought against the tolls.

Raimondo

The Michigan House Democrats crafted their legislation using input collected through town hall meetings and an online survey for residents. The survey asked: “How do you think we should fund the $2.5 billion we need to fix Michigan’s roads?”

Responses revealed scattered support for a variety of fundraising mechanisms. The highest percentage of responses — some 22% — were in favor of increasing taxes on corporations. The next most popular response, with 20%, supported increasing fees for heavy trucks. People also expressed support for reducing the amount of tax incentives given to corporations, reforming income tax laws, increasing the fuel tax and tolling roads and bridges.

“Too often, the conversations that are happening at the top are very far removed from the real, everyday experiences of the people in our state,” said House Democratic Leader Christine Greig (Farmington Hills) in a statement. “So we went to the source and we asked people in our communities directly, ‘What do you want to see done about our roads?’ And we came up with a way to make that happen. Good policy always starts at the ground level, and that’s where these policies came from.”

Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer

Heinritzi noted that this legislative package comes against the backdrop of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal for a 45-cent fuel tax increase. The fuel tax increase is meant to generate $2.5 billion a year in revenue, which would be directed to the Fixing Michigan Roads fund and devoted to the state’s most important commercial routes.

The state’s current excise tax rate is 26.3 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Whitmer’s proposal, announced March 5, has been met with contention in the Legislature.

“Neither caucus has really embraced that,” Heinritzi said. “I think this is just an initial salvo to get the discussion started. The Republicans have certain ideas, the Democrats have certain ideas and somewhere in the middle is where the answer’s going to be.”