Opposing sides sound off on Proposal 1

By: Kevin Bunch, Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published April 22, 2015


MACOMB COUNTY — State lawmakers and department heads are communicating to the public about Proposal 1 and how funds would be dispersed if voters approve the proposal.

On March 23, officials held a Proposal 1 town hall meeting at the Macomb Intermediate School District. Anyone from the public could attend and ask questions.

State Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, helmed the meeting. She is the vice chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Bob Hoepfner, Macomb County Department of Roads director; Roy Rose, a civil engineer with Anderson, Eckstein & Westrick; Jack Shea, Clinton Township fire chief; and Scott Hicks, MedStar director of operations, joined Lane.

The town hall meeting opened with a brief PowerPoint presentation that provided visuals associated with the current system and the changes that would take place if the proposal passes May 5.

Almost 20 years after the last fuel tax went into effect, Michiganders now pay 19 cents per gallon for gasoline or 15 cents for diesel fuel, and a state sales tax of 6 percent every time they visit the pump.

The proposed change would raise the sales tax rate from 6 percent to 7 percent and result in an estimated $1.2 billion per year for the state.

However, not all the money would go toward roads.

About 10 percent of that total would go toward mass transit and infrastructure, and nearly $300 million would go to the School Aid Fund.

Vehicle registration fees would increase as part of one of the proposal’s bills. Registration fees for trucks that weigh more than a certain amount of tonnage would also increase, as would fees for electric cars that would not pay for gas at all.

The proposal would increase the gasoline and diesel tax based on inflation and dedicate revenue for roads and other transportation purposes, expand competitive bidding for road construction projects, and increase the earned income tax credit for low-to-moderate families.

Lane said during the town hall that each person would be affected differently based on how much they drive, what they drive and how they spend their money.

“I think the whole proposal in itself is complicated,” she said after the meeting. “My intent is to be able to help people navigate and have a better understanding of a complicated package of bills. At the end of the day, no matter how they’re going to vote, I want them to understand what their vote means.”

In a Republican-controlled House with a Republican governor, Lane said this current bipartisan package is the only hope for better, safer roads. She said Democrats support the proposal because they want schools and local communities to get their fair share.

“I would certainly tell you with pretty much certainty that there won’t be Dems helping again on another package, because if you control the majority, then do your job,” she said.

Currently, the Macomb County Department of Roads is funded 100 percent by the Michigan Transportation Fund. All taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel and vehicle registration fees make up that fund.

The department currently receives $39 million per year from the fund. If Proposal 1 passes, Hoepfner said, the department would see an increase of $8.8 million in 2016, an additional $17 million in 2017, and an additional $26 million in 2018.

Shea said he had no specific statistics on whether firefighter response times have been affected by road conditions, though he did detail how his truck fleet has been impacted.

“What we see in the Fire Department in the past three years over our historical perspective is a lot more broken springs on the fire trucks, which ends up resulting in more down time,” Shea said. “We break a set of springs on a fire truck annually now — that’s all four wheels. We also see more front-end work and tire wear in the front end. We do front tires about every nine months now from the wear of the alignments that it affects, and we see spring damage.

“We attribute that damage to the roads because it’s really the only thing that has changed in our operation over the last six years as the roads have gotten worse.”

Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane said that while the City Council has not taken a stance on Proposal 1, the city is estimating an additional $1.2 million in net revenue should the proposal pass.

“We should receive, if passed, a larger share under the gas tax for local and major streets, as well as additional revenue that would come through revenue sharing,” Duchane said.

Roseville City Manager Scott Adkins said his city currently has nearly $18 million in identified local roads that need work, but the city receives about $1 million in road revenues each year from the existing gas tax and other state revenues.

“On simple math, it would take us 18 years to do that, but we know the roads are going to deteriorate and that number will go up,” Adkins said. “There’s no way we can keep up unless that formula change occurs. It may not be the best solution, but at this point, it’s the only solution that’s been proposed.”

He said there are still a lot of unknowns as to exactly how much will be distributed to local municipalities and the amount that can go toward local streets, and whether the state will tweak the current distribution formula.

Adkins added that simply raising the gas tax and removing the sales tax from fuel would hit his city’s revenues, as that money is part of the annual state distribution of funds to local municipalities. The increase in sales tax elsewhere is needed to offset that loss.

State Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is voting “no” on Proposal 1 and recently announced legislation to dip into auto insurance funds to fix roads.

“I don’t know why everything’s got to get paid out of this proposal when we could have just had one specific dollar amount for roads and infrastructure so everyone can understand it,” he said. “I wanted a second bullet in the gun. (My legislation) deals exclusively and responsibly with fixing our roads.”

Lucido’s plan would utilize a combination of the interest and principal from the nearly $18 billion Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association fund to fix the state’s roads. The fund’s revenue comes from annual $186-per-vehicle insurance charges.

The fund’s purpose is to reimburse auto insurance companies for Personal Injury Protection benefits paid in excess of $530,000.

“Why don’t we go ahead and use just the interest, which is almost $1 billion per year, and use it for 2-3 years, fix everything and go back to the gas tax?” he said.

Lucido said some might argue that the fund was created only for injuries and catastrophic claims, but his legislation would tie in to that by preventing Michiganders from becoming injured by a falling bridge piece or swerving out of the way of potholes.

Lucido said last week that he expects his legislation to be assigned a number sometime this week.

Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik contributed to this story.