Michigan Voters Crush Tax Measure for Infrastructure

Michigan spends less on highways per capita than all but one other state. That will not change after a recent election.

Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers will be forced to consider an alternative to address Michigan’s deteriorating roads after voters resoundingly rejected a ballot measure that would have increased taxes to pump $1.2 billion a year more into transportation infrastructure.

The long-running debate will again center on whether to hike taxes or reduce other government spending to boost funding for a network of highways, streets and bridges described as the country’s worst by road-funding advocates and whose major source of revenue, fuel taxes, is not keeping pace with construction and snow-plowing costs.

But given the bipartisan ballot proposal’s overwhelming defeat — a 4-1 ratio, according to final unofficial returns — higher taxes could be a nonstarter in a Legislature that is more conservative than the one that voted in December to put the constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot. Legislators appear reluctant to submit another ballot question to voters who accused them of passing the buck.

Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a Proposal 1 supporter, said Wednesday he would propose a Plan B within days that is “very heavily dependent” on existing revenue to improve roads. He hinted at restricting additional spending in the $9.6 billion general fund and diverting economic development money to road repairs.

The centerpiece of Proposal 1 was a 1-percentage point sales tax increase that would have eliminated the sales tax on fuel, restructured and doubled per-gallon fuel taxes and hiked vehicle fees boost the state’s $3.7 billion transportation budget to $5 billion.

Voters crushed the ballot initiative for a number of reasons — an aversion to higher taxes, its complexity, angst over it being a constitutional amendment, concerns about disproportionately hurting the poor with the sales tax increase and unhappiness that more than $500 million in additional tax revenue would have gone to public transit, schools and law enforcement.

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