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Whitmer, Highway Administrator Say Gas Tax Needs Replacing

April 16, 2024

SBAM’s Vice President of Policy and Engagement, Kelli Saunders discussed the Governor’s comments in Monday’s episode of the Small Business Briefing. Click here to hear more.


(KALAMAZOO) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledged Thursday that using a vehicle-miles-traveled concept and toll roads are possible replacements being discussed for the “antiquated gas tax” as officials look toward future road funding options.

Appearing with Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt in Kalamazoo Thursday for a large infrastructure announcement, Whitmer said the governor’s office is no longer talking about raising gas taxes. In 2019, Whitmer infamously proposed raising Michigan’s now-30-cent-a-gallon gas tax another 45 cents.

Now, in the era of fuel-efficient vehicles and electric vehicles, putting a surcharge on gasoline purchases to fund road repairs will be gradually less effective every year. Whitmer acknowledged that Thursday.

“I think before too long we’re going to have something on the table,” she said.

She said toll roads could be a part of the solution, but not the total. She also said a miles-traveled option was also on the table.

“I think that miles traveled is an important measurement for how we should be long-term looking at funding the roads,” Whitmer said.

Bhatt said the nation’s freeway system was something that even libertarians agreed needed investment because of the importance the roads represented to the nation. However, the decline of the gas tax revenue was posing a mounting problem that was being discussed nationally. He said raising the gas tax would be wildly unpopular politically.

“Whatever is going to replace the gas tax is also going to be politically unpopular and that is the challenge, going to elected officials and saying, ‘Let’s do this politically unpopular thing’,” he said.

He said many ideas have been kicked around the Hill and there would have to be a much larger discussion to see what would come out on top. He mentioned road usage fees through tolls, road usage charges or vehicle-miles traveled.

He said there was funding being put in the next bipartisan infrastructure bill that would start studying what the “son or daughter” of the gas tax could look like.

“At the end of the day, people love to drive, but they don’t like to pay for it,” Bhatt said.

Bhatt said other states around the nation were also discussing the idea of miles traveled, but each state had different names attached, such as Vehicle-Miles Traveled in Delaware, and Road-Usage Charge in Colorado or the Mileage-Based User Fee.

“We keep changing the name because it’s not going to be popular for privacy concerns, but at the end of the day, it’s not that much different than the gas tax,” he said. “You basically buy as much gas as you use for the most part, and this would just say you buy use of the road for how much you are traveling.”

Why Whitmer, Bhatt Were In Kalamazoo, Battle Creek

Whitmer was with Bhatt Thursday to announce a $38 million federal grant to help update Kalamazoo’s drainage infrastructure to reduce the city’s chronic flooding issue. A redesigned transportation network is also in the mix. She said there were also grants going to Southeast Michigan and a grant going to the Michigan Department of Transportation to reduce flooding on 28th Street in Grand Rapids.

“My missive to my team and state government was get every federal dollar we can into Michigan. I want the most per capita than any other state,” Whitmer said. “I’m proud to say we’ve gotten a lot done.”

She also mentioned several other projects being funded by the Biden Administration, such as the Soo Locks project.

Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) said the “Promoting Resilient Operations through Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT)” grant was welcome and thanked the administrator for choosing the city.

“I want to thank Gov. Whitmer for traveling up and down the I-69/I-94 corridor and coming over and over to Kalamazoo, multiple weeks in a row, so we’re very excited to have you again,” she said.

Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) said he was glad to see the continued development of a project he started when he was a state representative.

“$38 million is a huge deal,” he said.

After taking questions from the press, Whitmer traveled to Battle Creek, where she held an event with Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) to promote the repeal of the retirement tax and the Working Families Tax Credit passed by the Legislature last year.

The two-term incumbent happens to be running for reelection in a district former Republican President Donald Trump has won twice before.


Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter

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