Michigan residents ask many good questions about fixing our state’s crumbling roads. The information below answers those questions with the facts, and also seeks to address many of the rumors, myths and false information about how we pay for infrastructure in Michigan.
Why doesn’t the Legislature use money from marijuana to fix the roads?
Pot for potholes has a nice ring to it, but it’s estimated that the state excise tax on recreational marijuana will generate about $24 million annually for transportation in 2020, which amounts to less than one percent of the $2.5 billion needed each year to return 90 percent of Michigan’s roads to good/fair condition by 2030. The pot tax would only fix about 21 miles per year of the more than 36,000 miles of Michigan roads that must be fixed.
The Governor said she would fix the roads, why can’t she get it done alone?
Governor Whitmer released a plan for funding and fixing the roads in Michigan. But in all states including Michigan, the Governor can’t pass a spending plan without approval from the legislature or assembly. Some in the Michigan Legislature oppose the Gov. Whitmer’s roads plan, but so far, the House and Senate have not presented or started to debate an alternative plan that would fix Michigan’s roads without threatening other needs and priorities such as education. Without the support of state lawmakers, no plan to fix Michigan’s roads can be approved by the Governor alone.
What happened to all of the tax money that was supposed to go to roads?
All taxes that are currently collected by the state and earmarked to fix Michigan’s roads are, in fact, being used for roads. The problem is, Michigan governors and legislatures have failed – for literally decades – to invest enough resources into infrastructure. As a result, Michigan today spends less per person on roads than many if not most other states. Federal Highway Administration data from 2017 show that among the Great Lakes states, Michigan spends $195 per person on state-owned roads, while Ohio spends $296 per person (and Ohio just raised its gas tax in July); Minnesota spends $352; New York spends $401; Wisconsin spends $410; Indiana spends $426; Illinois spends $441; and Pennsylvania spends $676.
Lawmakers have raised registration and license fees, why hasn’t that worked?
It’s true that in recent years, the Legislature has increased license and registration fees, but not by nearly enough to truly address the needs. Lawmakers tend to “raise” taxes and fees just enough to avoid political backlash from voters, but too often not enough to solve the problem they were seeking to address. Some call this “kicking the can down the road,” which is exactly what Michigan legislatures and governors have done for the past three decades. As a result, Michigan now needs to invest about $2.5 billion more a year for the next two decades just to address today’s infrastructure needs.
Do we really need $2.5 billion a year more to solve the problem?
Yes. Every serious study examining the scope of Michigan’s road crisis has arrived at roughly the same number. Why so much? Because Michigan’s elected leaders have put off truly addressing the issue for decades. The result? As noted above: Michigan today spends less per person on roads that many if not most other states. Federal Highway Administration data from 2017 show that among the Great Lakes states, Michigan spends $195 per person on state-owned roads, while Ohio spends $296 per person (and Ohio just raised its gas tax in July); Minnesota spends $352; New York spends $401; Wisconsin spends $410; Indiana spends $426; Illinois spends $441; and Pennsylvania spends $676.
Why did the Governor propose a .45-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase?
Because 45 cents a gallon, while unpopular and opposed by many, would raise the $2.5 billion more that Michigan needs every year to finally fix our roads. She also chose the gas tax, instead of some other revenue options, because our constitution guarantees that those funds would be dedicated to fixing Michigan’s failing roads. If her plan passed, it would cost Michiganders, on average, $23 a month or less than a dollar a day. Studies have found that because of our crumbling roads and bridges, Michiganders now are paying, on average, $504 per year in car repairs, adding unneeded wear and tear on your car and shortening its life span and resale value.
Why are Michigan roads so much worse than surrounding states?
Again, as noted above, Michigan allocates less money per resident to roads than any other Great Lakes state. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Michigan spends $195 per resident on our state roads — dead last among the Great Lakes states. Ohio spends $296 per person; Minnesota, $352; New York, $401; Wisconsin, $410; Indiana, $426; Illinois, $441; and Pennsylvania, $676. This means that every other Great Lakes state is investing $100 to $482 more per person in state routes than Michigan.
Don’t overweight trucks do most of the damage to Michigan’s roads?
Because of our manufacturing history, Michigan has higher allowable overall weights for trucks than most states. Most states allow up to 80,000 pounds, Michigan allows up to 164,000 pounds, grandfathering in a 1982 federal law. However, less than 8 percent of all registered trucks in Michigan are able to carry over 80,000 pounds, meaning the vast majority of trucks on the road in our state are under the national average.
In terms of paying their fair share, the average passenger vehicle registration fee is $120-$150 per year. By comparison, an 80,000-pound, 5-axle semi pays $1,992 annually, and the rare 164,000-pound, 11-axle semi pays $3,741 annually.
Additionally, higher-weight trucks have lower fuel efficiency, which means they pay more in gas tax.
Not all of the taxes we pay at the pump go to transportation, so why should we support raising those taxes?
This statement is partly true, but misleading. In fact, the state constitution requires all revenues from Michigan’s per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel go to transportation. Same for the revenues raised from registration fees on passenger and commercial vehicles. Because these revenues are protected by the constitution, the legislature can’t spend them anywhere else. However, Michigan is one of only seven states that also charges a sales tax on motor fuel, and the only state that doesn’t use any of that revenue for roads and bridges. It should be noted that the 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase proposed by the Governor would be constitutionally protected and must be spent on transportation.
There is always construction being done, so what is the procedure for rebuilding roads and highways and why do we need to keep paying for it?
Although you see orange cones around the state and drive on smooth roads, the construction methods and materials used are directly tied to the underfunded infrastructure system that we currently have in place. These new roads have a shorter life span and will have potholes and cracks in less time because we are not fully investing in proper maintenance. Funding our infrastructure system will mean more construction in the short-term, but it will mean roads will have less construction in the long term by using longer-lasting materials.
Why don’t Michigan companies use better materials?
The lack of a properly funded road and bridge infrastructure system has resulted in lowering the quality of roads and using short-term construction methods like tar and chipping or simple resurfacing that doesn’t solve the underlying problems. Researchers have come up with new technologies that can significantly extend the lives of roads, but adequate funding must exist to implement these new technologies.
Why can’t the Michigan Lottery money be used to fix the roads?
The money from the Michigan Lottery is dedicated to the School Aid Fund. If we used the money from the lottery to fix the roads, we would leave a $1 billion gap in the School Aid Fund. Also, it is a complete myth that “lottery money does not go to the schools.” In fact, lottery revenues do fund Michigan schools. Here’s the breakdown of Michigan Lottery revenues for 2018: Michigan schools got roughly 26 percent of Lottery money, while 62 percent was paid out to winners, nine percent was paid to lottery vendors and retailers, and three percent was used to pay for lottery operations and administration.
The government has the money, why can’t they find it?
Of the $60 billion state budget, less than 20 percent is “discretionary general fund revenue.” Of that amount 80 percent goes to healthcare, education and public safety. While it might be mathematically possible to simply take $2.5 billion a year from these general fund programs and services and shift it to roads, such a move would do substantial damage to Michigan schools, public safety, healthcare and other essential services. Few elected leaders – even most who have opposed the Governor’s plan – have seriously suggested that level of disinvestment in other essential services.
We raised gas taxes already, why didn’t that work?
The gas tax increase passed in 2015 was a compromise that did not solve the problem. It is yet the latest example of a Michigan Legislature and Governor failing to pass a real, long-term solution and kicking the can down the road.
How do I know this new funding will go towards the roads?
Under our constitution, money raised by a fuel tax must go to transportation. The legislature and governor would not be able to “shift” the funds to pay for something else.