Thursday, March 19, 2015

How to fix the roads without raising taxes

Senator Patrick Colbeck
On May 5th, voters will be asked to consider a ballot proposal that would seek to fix our roads by increasing our taxes.  Voters have been told that there are no other viable alternatives.  After much investigation, I believe that it is important that voters understand that there are indeed alternatives that merit further consideration.

Over the past four years, I served as Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Subcommittee on Appropriations.  During this period, I have spent significant time with constituents and other legislators studying the serious problem of the deteriorating condition of our roads and bridges inur state. Furthermore, I have examined how Michigan’s road investments and road quality compare to other states.  As a result of these efforts, I have assembled no less than four viable options that would allow us to fix our roads without raising taxes.

The first of these options is a blast from the past commonly
referred to as “the Bolger Plan”.  This option had already passed the State House of Representatives last year but was replaced by the current road plan in the Senate.  Among other things, this plan would ensure that 100% of the taxes raised at the gas pump would go towards fixing our roads.  This option would add $149M to our road budget in the first year.

The second of these options is to simply prioritize the spending of existing funds.  This option features freezing general fund budgets with projected increases except for K-12 education, allocating 100% of “1-Time” spending to roads, using the Budget Stabilization Fund to “stabilize the budget”, and open up several restricted funds to allow usage of their fund balances to offset road maintenance costs.  This option would add $669M to our road budget in the first year.

The third of these options is to reduce our expenses.  These expense reduction opportunities can be broken down into MDOT cost reductions, non-MDOT government cost reductions, and the removal of Federal Regulations that drive the cost of road construction.  This option would not only address the quality of our road construction as a means of reducing total lifecycle costs; it would also address the quality of our government operations.  This option would yield at least another $53M to our road budget in the first year.

The last of these options is simply an “all of the above” option.  All told, we have the opportunity to put $869M towards fixing our roads in year one and apply over $1.4B towards maintaining our roads for each subsequent year.

I have focused on first year spending because, as a public safety issue, I believe that we need to demonstrate that we are committed to fixing the roads as quickly as possible.  The options outlined above would enable us to put $869M towards fixing the roads in the first year WITHOUT raising taxes.  For comparison purposes, Ballot Proposal 15-1 would only put $434M towards the roads in year one…and that is after increasing the taxes that you pay by $1.7B.  In other words, the sum total of these options improve the safety of our roads more than twice as fast as the Ballot Proposal…and it does so without any tax increases.

As a fellow taxpayer, I believe that these options deserve more consideration than the current dismissive commentary would indicate.  I encourage you to take time to explore these four alternatives.  There may be some who are opposed to these alternatives simply because they don’t believe that there are the votes needed to pass them.  As engaged citizens, it is our duty to keep pressing and ask “why”.  Why are film credits a higher priority than roads?  Why are we putting money away into restricted funds that sustain lower priority programs at the expense of putting more resources towards road construction?  Why don’t we build roads that last longer?

It is important for us all to realize that there are indeed ways to fix our roads without taking more money out of your wallets.  More information on these options is available in the Solution Center at

Patrick Colbeck

State Senator, 7th District

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