NILES — Roads can be fixed without raising the gas tax by 45 cents a gallon. That was the message from state Rep. Jack O’Malley at a town hall attended by 75 people Monday night at the Niles District Library.
78th State Rep. Brad Paquette hosted the event and invited O’Malley, the chairman of the transportation committee in the state House, to speak about the House Republican plan to address road funding issues. O’Malley, of Lake Ann, Mich. represents the 101st House district.
O’Malley said the plan does not call for any gas tax increase and would instead re-allocate the revenue from the current gas tax to provide more road funding, while holding other areas such as school aid harmless. It would also give county and local governments more flexibility in how they can spend money on roads.
He told those gathered at the Niles library that the House plan was developed after a dozen hearings that saw his committee brought in people involved with transportation, both inside and outside state government. He said negotiations are underway with the Republican-controlled Senate, as well as with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer has proposed raising the gas tax by 45 cents a gallon to fulfill her campaign promise to “fix the damn roads,” but the proposal has proved unpopular both with the Republican-controlled Legislature and with the public. As O’Malley noted Monday, the governor’s proposal would also set up a new road fund that people fear would only benefit the Detroit area.
He said the key to the House Republican plan is to make sure that every cent of the current gas tax goes to roads, instead of now in which part of the money goes to school aid and revenue sharing. To make up that loss of money to those two areas, the K-12 money now diverted to higher education will stop and the internet tax will be made a true sales tax.
“Here’s the other thing we’ve been preaching, that this needs to be a solid plan of legislation,” he said. “So we came up with 15 ideas on policy and new legislation to spend your tax dollars smarter.”
“Michigan is the most restrictive in what it won’t allow locals do,” he said. “Now, county and local governments can only do road millages and there’s so much we don’t allow locals do.”
“We think our plan makes a ton of sense,” he said. “It will spend money smarter and get more money to locals to give them more tools in their toolbox. Most road problems are from the driveway to the highway and our plan gives the locals a lot of flexibility.”
The 15 ideas proposed in the House plan include allowing local governments do more work without having to bid out projects, and letting them spend their money on the roads in the worst shape, whether they’re primary or secondary roads.
O’Malley also addressed some of the proposals that people believe would help, but that he says would not make sense. For example, some favor creating toll roads and say this would be the panacea to bring in the money needed. “It’s not the golden bullet people think it would be,” he said.
O’Malley did say the House plan calls for setting up an innovations board to test out ideas and encourage the Michigan Department of Transportation to be more innovative. “I think MDOT needs more oversight. “They do a lot of good things but they aren’t as innovative as they should be.”
He and Paquette asked people to spread the word about the House plan if they agree with the ideas presented at the town hall. Both said they and other Republicans will not vote for Whitmer’s 45-cent a gallon gas tax hike, but Paquette said he would vote for a 4 or 5 cent increase if it would reduce vehicle registration fees.