The Michigan Department of Transportation would look into the feasibility of implementing toll roads throughout the state under a legislative amendment to the transportation budget introduced by State Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton.
A “yes” vote on the amendment would not establish toll roads, but would require MDOT to produce an in-depth analysis that touched on the process, timelines, opportunities, associated costs and potential revenue of such a project.
Over the past few months, Democrats and Republicans have been arguing over ways to increase road funding.
“As representatives, we have an obligation to look into the policy solutions suggested by those we represent,” Bollin said in a news release. “We have a responsibility to give them serious consideration and understand what’s involved. We will be better prepared to make informed choices about how to best fund roads for the long run by conducting the due-diligence to research every option brought before us.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed nearly tripling the state’s gas tax to generate funds to improve the roads. Whitmer's plan would boost the tax from 26 cents a gallon to 71 cents and generate an additional $2.5 billion in revenue. It also would divert $600 million of the new tax revenue to the general fund. In the end, this plan would increase road funding by $1.9 billion.
House Republicans proposed a plan that completely scrapped a gas tax increase. Their plan to increase road funding is to divert the revenue from all of the sales tax collected from gasoline sales to fund road improvements. This plan would increase capital spending by about $800 million.
Bollin told The Center Square in an email that toll roads might be a better solution than the gas tax increase. However, she said that it’s not possible to say which alternative is better until both ideas are fully vetted and considered.
“It could be a better alternative to a gas tax given gas consumption is predicted to go down as we drive lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicles as well as hybrid and electric vehicles,” Bollin said. “Both are user based – whether you call it a fee or a tax –we need to recognize that having roads and bridges in good condition are critical to our economy and the quality of our daily lives.”
Bollin said that tolls could potentially raise as much revenue as a gas tax increase, but that a better analysis needs to be done to know for sure.
James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told The Center Square in an email that tolls are the best way to push the cost onto the actual user, but that he is skeptical that lawmakers will consider it.
“Tolls would be a direct user fee, while fuel taxes and vehicle registration taxes are less direct,” Hohman said. “Outside of the roads, infrastructure tends to be paid for by direct user fees. A good user fee ensures that the direct beneficiaries are the ones that pay for the infrastructure.”
Hohman said that converting highways under state and local maintenance would require a change in federal policy or returning the money that the federal government spent on roads. He said he does not think establishing toll roads is popular enough to be more than just a curiosity for lawmakers at the moment.
The governor has threatened to veto any legislation that doesn’t include a gas tax increase.