Monday, February 11, 2013

Regressive Rick and His Road Tricks

Michigan roads in need of urgent repair.

Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder announced his intention to raise taxes to repair Michigan roads. That is welcome albeit long overdue news after decades of deliberate neglect by Michigan's elected leaders.

In 2011 the Michigan DOT reported that 13% of the 85,000 lane miles on roads eligible for federal funding needed serious repair in 2004. BY 2011 that troubling figure had ballooned to more than double the 2004 figure at 35%. In 2004 nearly 88% of those roads were rated in good or fair shape, according to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council [a trucking industry lobbyist group], by 2011 it dropped 24 points to 64%.

Michigan has another 80,000 miles of roads ineligible for federal funds, mostly city streets and rural roads. These roads are in even worse condition and there is little hope their condition will be improved any time soon considering the Michigan's current gerrymandered political climate. 10,000 miles of these roads were examined and 44% are in poor condition, 46% in fair and only a measly 10% in good condition.

Michigan annually parks up near the top of most lists with bad roads and only confirms what irritated drivers often say. In 2010 Michigan’s roads were ranked 2nd worst in the nation by Overdrive Magazine. Clearly Governor Snyder is correct in stating that Michigan's transportation infrastructure is in need of some radical repairs, the real question is who pays and how?

The governor has proposed what he euphemistically calls 'user fees' which is doublespeak for taxes. Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. His plan would raise the annual registration and license tax [yes it's a tax not a fee] on passenger vehicles by 60% but only 25% for large commercial trucks. For the mathematically impaired that means the average car owner will pay more than double the increase that 80,000 pound pavement crushing trucks will. On top of the increased registration taxes he wants to increase the current fuel tax from $.19/gallon for gas and $.15/gallon for diesel to $.31/gallon for both. When questioned by reporters about his tax hikes the governor responded:

It's a user fee. If you use the roads more, you should pay more. If you use the roads less, you should pay less. There's a correlation there, and I think people understand that.

There is only one massive problem with his logic; it doesn't place the costs proportionate to the damage done to the roads. Over 50 years of research by the Federal Highway Administration has forensically demonstrated that one fully loaded semi truck does as much damage per axle as 10,000 cars. Since the average semi in Michigan has 5 axles that equals one truck doing the damage of 50,000 cars.

To make matters worse the national average maximum weight limit is 80,000 pounds, in Michigan the maximum is more than twice that at 164,000 pounds. According to industry source currently only about 5% of trucks in Michigan exceed 80,000 lbs, but that is partly because they can't cross state lines with these ridiculous weight loads. Not that in state truckers care about weight limits mind you, take a drive one weekend on our highways and you will see abandoned after abandoned truck weigh stations. Thanks to nearsighted Republican cutbacks there are virtually no operating weigh stations in Michigan, it is left solely to the state police to guess if a truck is overweight and have them drive over a portable scale. So unless it is glaringly obvious you might as well say Michigan has no practical weight limit.

80,000 pounds of destruction.

Bottom Line

If you really are going to put the costs on the people using and abusing the roads the path is clear, you add the taxes on the trucking industry not passenger cars. The governor's plan simply amounts to another Reverse Robin Hood scheme whereby the average person picks up the externalized costs for big business. I agree Governor Snyder, if you use the roads more, you should pay more.

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