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Editorial: Michigan's roads cannot be ignored
November 7, 2011
It is ritual for Michigan drivers to complain about road construction, but the deeper frustration is with a road system that is not up to the job.
The problem is simple: money. The widely accepted estimates say Michigan is $1.4 billion short of what it takes to maintain roads adequately.
Gov. Rick Snyder took on this issue with a plan this month that aims to shore up the state’s roads. As he put it, “Michigan’s infrastructure is living on borrowed time. We must reinvest in it if we are to successfully reinvent our economy.”
Give the governor high marks for picking the right battle. As for his suggested remedies? Well, let’s just hope someone comes up with something better.
The most eye-catching proposal from Snyder is his suggestion that vehicle registration fees should climb.
The governor suggests, while not specifically advocating for the dollar figure, that raising fees by $120 a year would generate $1 billion for roads.
What he glossed over is that such an increase would double how much drivers pay to put their cars and trucks on the road. A household of a wife, husband and teenage driver might pay $360 extra each year to register three cars.
Politically, this would be suicidal. Many residents already are angry at the governor and Legislature for approving taxes on seniors and for shifting money away from schools to boost business owners. There were valid reasons for these actions, yet a vehicle-registration fee hike would be viewed as an assault on the middle class — those who need cars for work but can’t much afford to pay more to the government.
Beyond that, doubling registration fees creates other practical concerns. It would encourage drivers to take chances and not register vehicles. As it is, one in five Michigan drivers does not carry insurance.
While this approach has holes, Snyder at least is pointing lawmakers and the public in the right direction. Michigan’s drivers already pay for bad roads, in wear and tear on cars, or in damage from potholes. Worn-down infrastructure also presents the wrong image to employers looking to do business here.
Somehow, this $1.4 billion problem needs to be addressed. The governor also proposed putting a wholesale tax on fuel, as opposed to having consumers pay at the pump. That change would generate more money if fuel prices rise.
He also suggests letting governments raise money for road repairs with local, voter-approved $40 vehicle registration fees.
Snyder has drawn attention to road funding. Now, it’s up to others in Lansing to build on his foundation and develop more ideas to repair Michigan’s roads.
There needs to be an investment for the sake of this state’s future.
Doubling the registration fee is a flawed idea, but it is better than the silence that we have heard on this issue from politicians before now. Let’s start a public dialogue that puts Michigan in the fast lane.