Proos, Pagel disagree on value of Michigan roads plan

Published 8:08 am Friday, November 6, 2015

Local legislators have mixed opinions about the roads plan that was approved by the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives earlier this week.

The $1.2 billion plan includes increases to both vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes as well as taking $600 million from the state’s general fund.

Under the plan, Michigan drivers would pay about $20 more in vehicle registration fees and spend approximately $1.17 more for a 15-gallon fill-up as a result of the plan, according to estimates from the Detroit Free Press.

State Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, voted yes on two key bills that are part of the road package: a bill to raise vehicle registration rates by 20 percent and a bill to raise the gas tax from 19 cents to 26.3 cents.

Pagel said he supported the plan because Michigan’s roads are in desperate need of fixing and that this roads package was the most politically realistic given the extremely conservative nature of the legislature.

“Some folks here simply would not vote for any new road funding, and many others would vote for only a very conservative package that limits the size of government and raises taxes and fees as little as possible,” he said. “With the passage of this plan, we will make great strides in improving our transportation infrastructure in the years ahead.”

State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, voted no on both bills, saying while he wants to fix roads, he could not support a plan that shifted the burden of that goal onto those who can least afford the increased costs.

“As a representative of the citizens along three Michigan counties at the Indiana border, I remain concerned with gas tax increases that will shift business and commerce across the border, to less expensive options in Indiana,” he said. “I have made it clear throughout this process that I believe that prioritizing taxpayer dollars must be our focus when it comes to funding our roads.”

Michigan’s current budget has $400 million dedicated to roads. This will increase to $600 million under the roads plan, meaning legislators will have to find an additional $200 million within the general budget.

Pagel said the source of this extra $200 million has not yet been identified.

“It is clearly true that our general fund budget will be very tight as a result, necessitating some cutbacks and making it very hard for any new programs to be funded,” he said.

Pagel said his concerns about the plan include how tight it makes the general budget and that it falls short of many estimates of what the needs are to adequately address the state’s roads and bridges.

“I voted for the bill because we needed to do something and this was the best plan that could garner the necessary votes to pass,” he said, adding that he would have liked to see the plan devote more dollars to roads sooner.

Under the plan, $450 million will go to roads in fiscal year 2017, $600 million in 2018, $750 million in 2019, $925 million in 2020 and $1.2 billion in 2021.

In order to get to the $1.2 billion mark, $400 million will come from increased fuel taxes, $200 million from higher registration fees and $600 million from the general fund.

Tax increases would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.

The governor was expected to approve the plan this week.