After a brief hiatus, conversations on transportation funding are again under way in Lansing. The $1.2 billion increase in transportation revenue that Governor Snyder requested back in February could come through a convoluted transfer of education dollars to transportation funding, according to one recent proposal. We think it has a low likelihood of success.
When summer legislative break began with no vote on a transportation funding package in the House Transportation Committee (more on that here), Michiganders were left wondering when our crumbling transportation system would find some relief.
As summer break now dwindles to an end, legislative leaders – Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) – are reportedly talking with Governor Snyder about a new transportation funding solution – one that could meet Snyder’s $1.2 billion recommendation without raising the gas tax or registration fees. After speaking to the offices of Senator Whitmer and Senator Richardville, it is clear that preliminary discussions are moving toward a package that would:
- Dedicate all of the 6% sales tax on gas to transportation funding (the 19 cent-per-gallon gas excise tax that already goes toward transportation funding would remain unchanged). Currently, the gasoline sales tax revenue does not simply fund roads; rather, it goes toward education and, revenue sharing as well as transportation.
- Place a one-cent sales tax increase on the ballot in November to fill the hole in education and revenue sharing created by the gas sales tax diversion.
After speaking to legislative staffers, it is apparent that discussions are still in a very preliminary stage. A staffer from Senator Richardville’s office indicated that the “Majority Leader’s first priority is Medicaid; however, transportation funding is next on the list.” Senator Whitmer’s office emphasized that “nothing is set in stone and there has only been one meeting [between the four legislators].” According to our sources, a meeting to further discuss this proposal is on the agenda for the legislative leaders this Friday.
While this proposal attempts to please lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as voters, it disguises an increase in transportation funding as an increase in education funding – a proposal that legislators will likely strike down before it has a chance on the ballot.
The experience of the previous transportation funding bill package made clear that Republicans are not willing to vote for an increase in the gas tax or registration fees. House Democrats may be more likely to support this potential proposal with provisions that protect revenue sharing, and increases funding to education, according to Representative Marilyn Lane’s (D-Fraser) office. Even with bipartisan support, it will be difficult to garner the hefty 2/3 majority House and Senate votes needed to put the sales tax increase on the ballot.
Fast approaching deadlines pose major obstacles for a potential bill package – at least to get a proposal on this November’s ballot. In order to place a sales tax increase on the November 2013 ballot, it must be approved in the legislature by September 4 – the week lawmakers officially return to the capital. Additionally, according to the Secretary of State 2013 Election Calendar, the official wording of any ballot proposals must be submitted to county and local clerks by August 27.
According to a recent report from Michigan Radio, both Senator Richardville and Senator Whitmer recognize that the likelihood of getting a proposal ready for November are far from realistic. The report also stated that both senators aim to continue discussions and expect to have a proposal ready for the May or August 2014 ballot.
As much as we, here at Trans4M, recognize the urgency for an increase in transportation funding, this reported proposal will not likely gain the traction it needs to be successful. This route to a transportation funding solution presents too many obstacles without forcing legislators to directly, and openly, support increased revenue to current transportation funding sources or create viable new funding options.
Stay tuned for updates on our blog as the discussion on transportation funding continues.
Written by Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellow