Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature goal for her first year in office – a plan to “fix the dams roads” – appears to be on the road to nowhere.
Though Michigan’s dilapidated roads and bridges rank 50th among the United States, a new statewide poll finds overwhelming opposition to the Democratic governor’s proposed 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike to finance a solution, even among independents and most Democrats outside the city of Detroit.
State officials have not faced such a rebuke since then-Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature put an expensive and complicated road tax plan up for approval in a May 2015 special election and saw it overwhelmingly shot down by voters by an extraordinary 80-20 percent margin.
In response, the state House and Senate crafted a modest increase in gas taxes and vehicle registration fees that served as a Band-Aid effect, with the intention of preventing the roads from getting worse. As the tax increase took effect, it should be pointed out, few motorists noticed the difference.
Yet, the newest poll numbers are rather devastating.
Seventy-five percent of Michigan voters say they oppose Whitmer’s gas tax proposal, according to a survey by Marketing Resource Group (MRG). Worse yet, Whitmer faces a situation in which more than 60 percent of voters said they “strongly opposed” the tax increase proposal.
That gives the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate the comfort of sitting back and offering no substantive, alternative solutions to our deteriorating transportation system.
Given our poll-driven politics, some things never change.
The MRG survey numbers, beyond anything else, show a regrettable mentality among voters that they are unwilling to face the reality that state lawmakers have failed miserably at maintaining funds for our roadways over the past three or four decades.
As a result, two political clichés come to the forefront.
One is that taxpayers essentially seek a free lunch – well-maintained and upgraded roads without any increase in funding that comes out of their pocket.
Second, state officials have tried to patch the leaky roof rather than replace it. Our lawmakers in Lansing, none of whom have been in office for more than four years, due to term-limits, need to face facts – their predecessors left them in a terrible bind.
While a 45-cent hike at the pump would put Michigan’s gas tax, by far, at the highest among all states, every expert says that the neglect of our highways and local roads requires a dramatic program to play catch-up. A jump in funds of at least $2.5 billion a year is needed to put our roads on the path to quality.
Yet, that harsh reality has not reached those who rely upon our pock-marked roads and bridges to commute to work or to deliver their company’s goods.
In the MRG poll, every geographic area of the state and every demographic and political group of voters opposed Whitmer’s plan. Only 21 percent of statewide voters supported the measure, with the strongest support coming from Detroit voters, though with minority backing at a 51-46 percent margin.
It should be pointed out that a significant percentage or Detroiters don’t pay the gas tax because they don’t own a car or they rely on bus service.
From a partisan standpoint, the MRG poll found that Republicans were the strongest in their opposition, with 89 percent against the tax. The governor doesn’t have the support of fellow Democrats either, as 59 percent oppose the plan and only 36 percent offer support.
Beyond politics, the numbers are rather astounding. Geographically, the opposition exceeds 80 percent among voters in Macomb County, west Michigan, northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Men and women, union and non-union, were equally opposed.
Clearly, Whitmer cannot possibly turn around those numbers, especially when Republican lawmakers revel in the public opposition and show no inclination to offer an alternative or a compromise funding plan.
MRG pollster Tom Shields offered this blunt assessment: “It’s back to the drawing board.”