AS IN many places in the United States, Michigan’s roads need work. A quarter of the state’s roads are in poor shape, according to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council — and that proportion is rising fast. Many have eroded so much they must be totally replaced, because they are no longer fixable. The state’s transportation department says it needs $1.5 billion for state roads, and that doesn’t include the amount necessary to repair local byways.
Identifying the problem, in Michigan and in many other states, is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to pay for a solution. And it is on this question that new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has stepped up, proposing to nearly triple Michigan’s gasoline tax over two years. Her plan has already encountered Republican resistance. But hiking the gas tax is the most reasonable way to deal with the undeniable infrastructure problems — in Michigan and across the country.
Ms. Whitmer would raise her state’s gasoline tax by 15 cents in October, another 15 cents next April and a final 15 cents next October. The total, 45-cent increase would bring the gas tax to 71.3 cents per gallon. The increase would make Michigan’s fuel tax rate the highest in the nation. The Detroit Free Press figures that it would cost an additional $6.75 to fill a 15-gallon tank.
But the fuel tax increase would raise $2.5 billion — roughly the amount a bipartisan commission estimated the state’s roads need. The hike would also allow the state infrastructure budget to rely less on the state’s general fund, which could go back to paying for things such as education.
There is a reason governors — and not just Democrats — keep returning to gas taxes as the way to finance public infrastructure. Those who use the roads should pay for them, rather than relying on the general taxpayer to subsidize their driving. This is the principle on which the nation’s roads and rails were funded for decades until an increasing aversion to hiking gas taxes led to budget gaps — and potholes.
True, an increasing number of high-efficiency and electric vehicles on the road means that more and more drivers are not paying their fair share for the infrastructure they use, since they pay little or nothing in gasoline taxes. But gasoline use still correlates pretty well with road use. And until next-generation funding mechanisms, such as a tax on vehicle miles traveled, are adopted, owners of electric cars, hybrids and the like could be charged more when they register their cars.
Ms. Whitmer’s plan is solid. Other states should take notice — and so should Congress.