December 19, 2014 – After a long and tumultuous debate, the Michigan Legislature has finally done something to address the lack of adequate funding for road and bridge improvements that has plagued the state for years. Both the Senate and House had passed competing proposals that would have provided a legislative solution to increase dedicated funding for transportation purposes earlier in the lame-duck session. The Senate plan would have raised new revenue dedicated for road funding by increasing taxes collected on gas purchases, and the House plan would have re-directed money that currently goes to schools and local governments from the sales tax applied to gas purchases to road funding. Legislative leaders and Governor Snyder spent the last two weeks trying to forge a compromise between the two proposals and there was real fear among advocates for children that a long-term solution would steal funds otherwise available for children’s programs and services.
Ultimately, the legislative leaders and the Governor could not reach an agreement on a legislative solution to increase funding for road and bridge improvements and instead decided on putting a proposal to increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7% before the voters on a May 5, 2015 referendum. The constitutional amendment required a 2/3 vote in each chamber to be placed before the state’s voters giving Democrats, who generally oppose sales tax increases as disproportionately impacting low and moderate income families, more negotiating leverage resulting in a restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increased funding for public schools to be included in the final package. The entire package, which also includes increases in vehicle registration fees, increases in heavy truck permits, a modest gas tax increase and some other statutory changes, was passed by both chambers of the Legislature early Friday morning.
With the Legislature now adjourned for the year, attention will immediately begin to focus on the May statewide vote. This last-minute, bi-partisan deal reached by the Legislature with the support of Governor Snyder provides a real opportunity to solve Michigan’s road funding shortfall while at the same time providing tax relief to low and moderate income working Michigan families and much needed increased resources to our schools.
All of this can only happen if the citizens of Michigan vote yes on May 5th, however. There will certainly be well-funded and organized opposition to the May vote and it will be important over the next few months for child advocates to join with other groups interested in supporting this plan to educate citizens about the value of a yes vote in moving Michigan forward. With a considerably more fiscally conservative Legislature coming to Lansing in January, the ballot initiative is probably our best opportunity for next few years to actually increase funding for schools and other education related programs.
– Matt Gillard