Over the past few weeks we have been bombarded by the media on the proposals and finger-pointing by Democrats and Republicans over the massive problem we have on funding and fixing Michigan roads. Like most of you, I’m just one of the commoners, the peasants, you know, one of the little people. I think we’re smart enough to understand most of what we hear, and we’ve been around long enough to know that, one way or the other, we are going to get stiffed by the myopic minions of malfeasance that gave us this problem over the past 20 years.
Oh, and for those of you of the political class who don’t have a clue, malfeasance means failure to act, to do what ought to have been done long before now. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase. Let’s see, if you’re like most folks, you probably fill up your tank at least once a week, especially if you have kids and a job. A lowball estimate would be a minimum of 10 gallons per fill-up, or an additional $4.50. With four weeks in a month, you’d pay an additional $18 a month, or $216 a year.
The Republican shell game for the current budget called for taking money that mainly goes to schools and municipalities and shift it to the roads. They also cobbled together $375 million in one-time discretionary funds for roads and bridges. It always intrigues me when I hear “discretionary funds” in reference to government spending, budgets and program funding. At least the vernacular of the street is honest enough to call such things “slush funds,” but I digress.
I don’t feel it’s up to vehicle owners exclusively to fund roads. It strikes me that roads are as much a part of municipalities at all levels as are water, sewer, sanitation, police, fire protection, education, libraries, parks, etc. Those things funded by everyone for the benefit of a quality civic and public life. The fact is, every one of us use the roads and maybe it’s time to think about all of us paying for them. We all put a demand on them through the expectations and needs we have, or the protections we value and demand, even if we don’t have a vehicle.
School buses pick up our children. We expect our pharmacists to get the ingredients they need for our prescriptions. We expect grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes and health care clinics to maintain the necessary inventory for reliability. Vehicle or no vehicle, we all demand that the police, fire and ambulance services get to where ever they need to be to protect our homes and community.
How might we all share in funding our roads? Most of the things I mentioned earlier are funded through the property tax, and I offer the following as a suggestion only, to be considered by the political class and the public relative to pros and cons. We did a similar thing not long ago when we shifted funding of education to a State Education Tax. Property is assessed at 6 mills as part of summer property taxes. This was done to fund a statewide need; i.e., education. Fixing and maintaining the roads is also a statewide need and purpose.
Now, I don’t want to pay any more taxes than the rest of you, but I’m not certain what I’m going to be stiffed with from either party when they start stealing funds from here and there for roads. If they dig a hole somewhere to help with roads, we commoners are going to be expected to fill it one way or another, be it our schools or municipalities. Compared to what has been proposed thus far, a minor state millage rate as a statewide property tax applied to the total statewide property valuation might be a more painless way to go, and would get everyone involved in funding their roads.
According to Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski, the total statewide property valuation is approximately $458.84 billion dollars. A mere quarter of a mill tax levy would generate roughly $114,709,585 in revenue for the roads every year, and it would be earmarked explicitly for roads. One half mill would double that. It’s not totally enough, but it would be a consistent annual segment of the funding to be worked with that would be there every year and wouldn’t gouge that taxpayer. For example, based on a quarter mill, a home valued at $200,000 would pay approximately $25 annually in additional property taxes. As mentioned in the opening, Gov. Whitmer’s 45-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase could easily cost you $216 a year. In addition, the property tax is deductible on your income tax and a gas tax isn’t.
Frankly, I don’t like any of this, but I offer it up as some food for thought on the issue. Cheers!
Ron Weber is a multi-award winning poet and writer who lives in Stevensville.