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Michigan Trying Again on Transportation Funding

3 min readBy: Scott Drenkard

Michigan has been tangled up in a transportation funding back-and-forth for the last year or so. The most recent episode was a May ballot initiative to raise sales and gas taxes that failed 80-20. As of yesterday, news sources report that legislators in the House and Senate have come back with new funding plans. The Detroit Free Press has a run down of the two plans:

House roads plan

Use $700 million in extra revenues that were reported in the May Revenue Estimating Conference and future growth in the state economy.

Use $45 million in additional revenue from making the taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. on diesel fuel equal to the tax on regular fuel and instituting user feeA user fee is a charge imposed by the government for the primary purpose of covering the cost of providing a service, directly raising funds from the people who benefit from the particular public good or service being provided. A user fee is not a tax, though some taxes may be labeled as user fees or closely resemble them. s for people who drive hybrid or plug-in electric cars.

Use $185 million through a $75-million raid of the 21st Century Jobs Fund and $60 million in revenues from the tribal gaming casinos, which now go into economic development, and shifting $50 million in film subsidies to roads,

Eliminate the Earned Income Tax CreditA tax credit is a provision that reduces a taxpayer’s final tax bill, dollar-for-dollar. A tax credit differs from deductions and exemptions, which reduce taxable income, rather than the taxpayer’s tax bill directly. given to working poor families. The credit amounts to roughly $143 a year for working poor families and will save the state $118 million in fiscal year 2015-16 and $121.5 million in fiscal year 2016-17.

Senate roads plan

Raise $822 million a year by fiscal 2017-18 by increasing the gasoline tax from 19 cents per gallon to 23 cents on Oct. 1, 2015, to 27 cents on Jan. 1, 2016, and to 34 cents on Jan. 1, 2017. And increase the diesel fuel tax to 21 cents per gallon on Oct. 1, 2015, 27 cents on Jan. 1, 2016, and 34 cents on Jan. 1, 2017.

The revenues raised in the third year of the increase will go into a "lock box" that won't be distributed until the Michigan Department of Transportation, in concert with local road agencies, comes up with a plan to build better roads that are designed to last for 50 years.

"We don't want to throw money at poorly constructed roads," said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. "It's basically a check on the system to make sure they are using this money wisely."

Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, adjust the tax rates on gasoline and diesel fuel, based on U..S. Consumer Price Index, rounding up to the nearest 1/10 of a cent.

Reduce the individual income taxAn individual income tax (or personal income tax) is levied on the wages, salaries, investments, or other forms of income an individual or household earns. The U.S. imposes a progressive income tax where rates increase with income. The Federal Income Tax was established in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment. Though barely 100 years old, individual income taxes are the largest source of tax revenue in the U.S. beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, if the percentage increase in general fund revenues from the prior fiscal year exceeds a positive inflationInflation is when the general price of goods and services increases across the economy, reducing the purchasing power of a currency and the value of certain assets. The same paycheck covers less goods, services, and bills. It is sometimes referred to as a “hidden tax,” as it leaves taxpayers less well-off due to higher costs and “bracket creep,” while increasing the government’s spending power. rate. And require that $350 million from income tax revenues be deposited in the Transportation fund in 2016-17 fiscal year; and $700 million in each subsequent year. There are no specifics on where cuts will be made to make up for the $700-million shift to roads.

Common ground in House and Senate plans

Require MDOT and local road commissions to get warranties for full replacement on projects of more than $1 million.

Require competitive bidding for local and state road projects of more than $100,000.

Apply the motor fuel tax to alternative fuels.

While some of my Michigan friends are howling over a few of the revenue raisers, there are some good policy changes in these plans. In the House plan, for example, bringing the diesel excise taxAn excise tax is a tax imposed on a specific good or activity. Excise taxes are commonly levied on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, soda, gasoline, insurance premiums, amusement activities, and betting, and typically make up a relatively small and volatile portion of state and local and, to a lesser extent, federal tax collections. up to parity with the gasoline tax is low-hanging fruit. Diesel vehicles, mostly large trucks, do the most damage to the roadbed, and should pay at least the same fares as regular cars, if not more.

House leaders have also incorporated some transportation funding recommendations from the Michigan-based Mackinac Center: namely, scaling back generous business incentives (the 21st Century Jobs Fund, the film subsidy program, and Michigan Economic Development Corporation).

In the Senate plan, the gas and diesel tax increase phase-ins and inflation indexingInflation indexing refers to automatic cost-of-living adjustments built into tax provisions to keep pace with inflation. Absent these adjustments, income taxes are subject to “bracket creep” and stealth increases on taxpayers, while excise taxes are vulnerable to erosion as taxes expressed in marginal dollars, rather than rates, slowly lose value. connect the users of roads with the costs of their maintenance, while maintaining a steady revenue stream. The gas taxA gas tax is commonly used to describe the variety of taxes levied on gasoline at both the federal and state levels, to provide funds for highway repair and maintenance, as well as for other government infrastructure projects. These taxes are levied in a few ways, including per-gallon excise taxes, excise taxes imposed on wholesalers, and general sales taxes that apply to the purchase of gasoline. hikes are offset with income tax cuts when general fund revenue exceeds the inflation rate. Though the plan moves some $350 million in income tax revenues to transportation spending, on net, it makes the Michigan transportation funding structure more based on user fees and taxes.

Legislators and the Snyder administration are expected to come up with a compromise between the House and Senate plans to pass in the fall.

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