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Is A Michigan Gas Tax Increase Inevitable?

Gov. Rick Snyder has made road funding his top 2013 agenda item and there's been some talk of lawmakers looking to existing resources to achieve the $1.4 billion price tag.

However, a push for raising the gas tax, auto registration or both is seen by many as all but inevitable.

Gov. Snyder has yet to reveal a specific road funding proposal, but getting the legislature to tap taxpayers for additional dollars isn't expected to be an easy task.

Michigan Capitol Confidential spoke with four political observers and asked for their analysis of what is likely to happen regarding the road funding issue.

MCC: Do you think Gov. Snyder will successfully get the legislature to pass some sort of tax or fee hike for road funding, or will he have to figure out some other way of getting the money?

Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger said he thinks Gov. Snyder will get new taxpayer dollars, but he's not sure exactly what form it will take or how he'll get it.

"Yes, I think he'll get it," Ballenger said. "But, look, this is obviously something that will involve a lot of negotiations. It wouldn't have to be a direct vote of the legislature. It could be a ballot measure.

"Putting something on the ballot would require two-thirds votes by the House and Senate. Snyder would support that, if that's what it comes to. Some might say that if Snyder doesn't get the votes needed to pass what he is asking for, that means he hasn't succeeded. But, to me, if he gets the two-thirds support to put something on the ballot, and gets it passed, he's been successful. I'm optimistic that he'll get something."

Democrat Mark Grebner, of Practical Political Consulting, said he thinks Gov. Snyder has found a formula for dealing with the legislature.

"I think the RTW fight showed us how Snyder is operating these days," Grebner said. "He's willing to bend on some red-meat issue where his personal sympathy is on the opposite side, if the fanatics will deliver enough votes to pass whatever he's working on.

"Thus, the RTW people had to cough up enough votes for the new BRT (Bus Rapid-Transit) system, in exchange for screwing organized labor. If the handgun fanatics or the RTL (Right To Life) crusaders can help Snyder put together enough votes to push something through both houses, I don't think the Nerd will look too closely at the details. Exactly what it will be remains to be seen."

Steve Mitchell, of Mitchell Communications, said he thinks it would be hard to bet against Gov. Snyder.

"This governor has been extremely successful at getting everything he goes after," Mitchell said. "On this issue he's facing a big obstacle, because many of the Republican legislators have taken pledges against raising taxes. So, he'll need to do something to get Democratic votes. I think it will have to be bipartisan. It will be a heavy lift, but I think the governor will find a way to do it."

Dennis Darnoi, of Densar Consulting, said he thinks Gov. Snyder might not get exactly what he wants, but he won't walk away empty handed.

"I don't know what he's going to get, but I think he'll get something," Darnoi said. "But it's going to be very difficult to get the House and Senate to go along with something like this."

MCC: How much difference does it make that most business groups support some sort of tax or fee increase for road funding?

Grebner said it's the only reason Republicans are even talking about possibly raising the gas tax, or auto registration.

"Business support has been crucial to putting the issue in play," he said. "Without them, the only place you'd hear public discussion of spending billions of dollars of new money on roads would be Senate Dems press conferences, and you wouldn't have to arrive early to be guaranteed a seat."

Darnoi said support from the business groups shouldn't be underestimated, but it shouldn't be overestimated either.

"There's no doubt that it's a big advantage," Darnoi said. "However, the governor had them behind him for his bridge project, too. In spite of that, he couldn't get legislative approval for the bridge. So, yes, it is very important, but it doesn't guarantee that this will get done."

Mitchell said the significance of business support for getting road funding can't be overstated.

"Absolutely, it's huge," Mitchell said. "The coalition (supporting new road funding) will be a major factor. That coalition includes the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which continues to be the 800-pound gorilla in Lansing. Business support means the governor has some great allies to work with."

Ballenger agreed.

"I think the support of business groups is a very big part of it," Ballenger said. "I think it's very important."


See also:

Motorists Paying For Bike Paths, Museums

Nation's Highest Gas Tax Coming To Michigan?