Senate rejects tax hike for road repairs

LANSING (AP) – The defeat of an effort in the Republican-led state Senate to more than double Michigan’s gasoline tax has left lawmakers scrambling to pass a scaled-back plan to improve deteriorating roads on their last day before adjourning for much of the summer.

After a marathon 15-hour session, senators broke early this morning without approving a measure that would gradually increase the 19-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax to 41 1/2 cents within five years. They also could not muster enough support to switch from a flat per-gallon tax to one that would fluctuate with price to keep transportation revenue on pace with inflationary construction costs.

Senators will return midmorning today to try again on the second proposal, which is similar to one approved by the GOP-controlled House in a bipartisan vote last month.

It would tax 7 percent of the wholesale, or “rack,” price of fuel, keeping the per-gallon gasoline tax at about 19 cents and bringing the 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax in line with the gas tax. The tax could rise or fall no more than 5 percent in future years to account for major year-to-year fluctuations in price.

“As the price of gas goes up, we just make sure the same purchasing power stays there,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

The Senate’s defeat of the main road-funding bill was a blow to Richardville and others, including Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who say at least $1.2 billion more per year is needed to bring roads up to par or else the system will fall further into disrepair. It was not clear exactly how much money the scaled-back plan – including other measures approved Wednesday and last week – would generate, but it would be well short of the original proposal.

Richardville said work on a long-term structural fix, assuming it is out of reach Thursday, will continue in the summer and fall.

Democrats agreed to vote for the significant gas tax hike in exchange for tying it to an expanded tax break for lower- to middle-income homeowners and renters – which is now on hold.