State looking at a baker's dozen

May 11, 2009
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Thirteen isn’t generally perceived as a lucky number — certainly not by many hotel operators that choose to ignore the digit. But state lawmakers seem to have no such reservations, as they began introducing 13 bills late last week that they’re betting will lead to improved transportation funding in Michigan.

All the bills are expected to be introduced by the end of this week. Whether the number turns out to be lucky should be known by the 4th of July recess, the unofficial deadline for legislators to have new transportation funding measures in place for 2010.

“They have until the 4th of July break to get this done,” said Don Stypula, executive director of the Grand Valley Metro Council.

The state’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Thirteen also means lawmakers will have many options to choose from, possibly too many to reach an agreement in two short months without confusing or enraging vehicle owners who also are their constituents.

But one thing is fairly certain, as Stypula pointed out again last week: The state’s 19 cent tax on every gallon of gasoline purchased is all but gone because it isn’t capable of providing Michigan with enough funding to meet its transportation needs. Options range from taxing the wholesale price of gas, which is favored by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, to giving counties the authority to leverage a $25 fee for drivers’ licenses to boost revenue for local road and bridge improvements and public transit operations — a levy that may interest the Interurban Transit Partnership considering the defeat of its millage proposal last week. Counties could also add $35 to a chauffeur’s license.

A tax on the wholesale price of gas would be capped at the equivalent of 34 cents a gallon after seven years. In 2010, the cap would start out at 5.5 cents per gallon and then be limited to 3 cents per gallon for each following year.

Another option would raise the price of registration fees for vehicle owners. The cost to register a car or truck would nearly double over five years, beginning with a 10 percent hike next year and then rising by 20 percent each year through 2014. Motor homes and cars priced below $12,000 would be exempt from the annual increases. Owners of used vehicles would get a 10 percent reduction on their registration fees for the first three times the registration is renewed. The discount would end with the fourth renewal.

The number of fees for buying a new car would be reduced but the price band would be widened from $1,000 to $3,000 and would move an auto into a higher fee bracket. Owners of new vehicles would receive a 10 percent cut for each year they renew their registrations for the first three years, which reportedly would offset the higher fee from the purchase.

The fee to register commercially licensed trucks would rise by 5 percent each year for four years, which would amount to a 20 percent increase from the first year.

At the federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives has begun discussing legislation to reauthorize a transportation-funding law.

“In Washington, the process has begun,” said Stypula. “The timetable is the end of June, but I’m not sure they can make it.”

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