It’s been a fast-paced year for transportation policy and initiatives in 2014! As we look back on everything that has happened in Michigan, we’re proud to see Trans4M member groups leading the charge for a stronger, more vibrant transportation system for our state. Part I of our Year In Review series reviews our efforts in the fight for our state transportation funding and Part II takes a look at all the exciting and innovative transportation projects happening around the state.
It’s not every year that transportation is the most pressing issue in the state legislature. But 2014 was the year of transportation funding as state legislators tried not once but twice to pass a comprehensive, long term solution to fixing our neglected transportation system.
Multiple proposals from both the House and Senate attempted to increase revenue for our roads and bridges. The first, passed by the House in the spring, would have brought $450 million for roads, but fell dramatically shy of the $2 billion estimated at the time that was necessary for Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. It also bypassed a critical portion of the Public Act 51 funding distribution formula: the Comprehensive Transportation Fund (CTF) that provides crucial funding for public transportation. Trans4M members rallied immediately to argue for the value of transit and the need to for any increased funding for transportation to go through the full, traditional formula.
In response, the Senate took up bill that would produce over a billion in new revenue for our complete transportation system, including public transportation. After several attempts on the last day before summer recess, the Senate was unable to pass 5477, the bill that would convert the cent-per-gallon fuel tax ($0.19) to a wholesale tax and gradually increase it at a rate of 2% over the next four years. Without much hope of action, we waited for the beginning of lame-duck for the MI Legislature to take up transportation funding again.
In November, the Senate passed a package of bills, including 5477, that would have raised over 1.5 billion in new revenue for our complete transportation system. While the Governor and transportation advocates overwhelmingly supported this plan, the House chose a different path. Their preferred package would have gradually repealed the current sales tax on gas (currently 6%) and converted it to a wholesale tax on fuel dedicated entirely to roads. At the same time, the current cent-per-gallon fuel tax would have also been converted to a wholesale tax, much like the Senate package did. But this would have meant a loss of funds for beneficiaries of the existing sales tax, primarily public schools, local governments and public transit. Additionally, the House package would not have put any of the increased revenue from the wholesale tax through the PA 51 formula, and so public transportation would have both lost a source of money and not gained from any new money.
The last two weeks of lame-duck meant fast action by both our legislators and transportation advocates as we fought for a package that would include public transportation without hurting our schools. Trans4M organized an Advocacy Day focused solely on this important issue with over 40 participants coming out to speak with legislators. Trans4M member groups such as Transportation Riders United (TRU), Michigan Municipal League (MML), Michigan Public Transit Association (MPTA), Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) all issued Action Alerts asking for phone calls and emails to legislators.
The final package, formed by the House and Senate Leadership and the Governor, was passed in the last minutes of lame-duck with the Senate voting on it at 5:30 am. The final package is a constitutional amendment that would increase the state sales and use tax by one percentage point to 7%. The package also includes the House’s original intent to repeal the sales tax on gas and diesel while also converting and gradually increasing the cent-per-gallon tax on gas and diesel into a wholesale tax, pending approval of the ballot measure. All new sales tax revenue from the sale of gas and diesel would go to fund transportation, including public transportation, while the increase in sales tax on other goods and services would put money towards education, local government, and public transit.
Ultimately, it will be the public who decides with a yes or no vote on the ballot in May 2015. If the ballot initiative to change the sales and use tax is defeated, then all of the accompanying bills tie-barred to the House Joint Resolution UU will not go into effect, and transportation funding will not see any increase.
Though we’ve come a long way in securing an increase in funding for our complete transportation system, there’s still work to be done. Trans4M and our member groups will continue to be in front of educating the public about the value of transportation, and specifically of funding our buses, rails, and trails.
Stay tuned for Part II of our 2014 Year In Review!