Michigan voters: Roads stink, but don’t ask us to pay for fixes


Michigan voters say crumbling infrastructure is the most important issue facing the state. But they don’t want to pay more for repairs. (Shutterstock image)

LANSING — As Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer prepares to deliver her second annual State of the State Address on Wednesday, a new poll underscores the first-term Democrat’s challenge to “fix the damn roads.”

Michigan voters say crumbling infrastructure is the most important issue facing the state. But they don’t want to pay more for repairs: 

More than 53 percent of voters believe the state already has enough money to fix the roads, according to the poll of 600 likely general election voters commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber. The Jan. 14-18 survey found 34 percent of voters polled think new revenue is necessary.

Whitmer and state transportation officials argue the state needs to spend upward of $2 billion on roads and bridges each year to keep them from going from bad to worse. 

But they’re “losing the PR battle with voters in failing to succinctly explain why there’s not enough money,” said veteran pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the live operator survey.

More than 29.5 percent of respondents identified roads and bridges as the most important issue facing the state, making it the most common answer to an open-ended survey question. 

By comparison, 18 percent of voters identified jobs and the economy as the most important issue in Michigan, followed by 7.2 percent who said education and 6.3 percent who said water infrastructure. 

A plurality of voters (46 percent) think Michigan roads are getting worse, while 40 percent think they’ve stayed about the same. Despite a 2015 law that pumped more money into roads, just  12 percent of voters think they are improving. The poll results have a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

“There’s no controversy about the roads being awful,” Czuba said. “Where there is controversy is, do we need more money or not? And the voters still have not been convinced that we need more money, particularly independents and Republicans.”

The findings follow a study last year from The Center for Michigan, Bridge Magazine’s parent nonprofit, that found two-thirds of residents believed roads are getting worse, but only a slim majority, 51 percent, would pay $100 or more to fix them.

Whitmer is preparing to unveil a new road funding plan after failing to secure legislative support last year for an proposal to raise fuel taxes by 45-cents per gallon over two years. That would have nearly tripled Michigan’s gas tax to 71.3 cents a gallon and made it the highest in the nation. 

The Detroit Regional Chamber endorsed that plan, but president and CEO Sandy Baruah said the new polling shows voters do not trust the government enough to believe the need is real. 

“The campaigns that this and previous administrations have run clearly haven’t been targeted correctly,” he said. 

Trial balloons floated in Lansing suggest Whitmer’s new roads plan could include bonding — borrowing to fund big repair projects — or  experiments with tolling to raise new revenues.  

Baruah said one “partial” solution to the road funding disconnect could be allowing cities or counties to levy their own taxes to raise revenue for infrastructure needs. State Rep. Jack O’Malley, a Republican from Lake Ann, floated a similar idea last year with legislation that would allow counties to implement a local gas tax, if approved by local voters. 

The chamber poll results suggest if more money was raised for roads, voters would have more trust in their city or county government to spend it appropriately. 

Just 23 percent of voters said they’d have the most faith in the state. 

When it comes to describing the projected cost of road repairs, “big numbers” like $2 billion are just “going over people’s heads,” Baruah said. “With the level of trust in government so low, we’re going to have to take a significantly different approach than we have.”

There is good news for Whitmer as she heads into her State of the State address: More than 46 percent of voters think Michigan is on the right track, compared to just 33 percent who think it’s on the wrong track, according to the poll results. 

Most voters also appear to support proposals the governor has pushed, including a job-retraining program with debt-free community college (74 percent), a hands-free driving law restricting cellphone use (88 percent) and new anti-discrimination projections for gay and transgender residents (77 percent). 

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Kevin Grand
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 7:33am

Mr. Kurth wrote on another piece this morning, "Truth may be subjective, but facts aren’t. "

When will we see the focus shifting from just how much more money Michigan Motorists will have to pay, to WHY are Michigan Roads falling apart so quickly in the first place?

For example: recently "rebuilt" sections of I-696 & I-75 required "more work/emergency repairs" shortly after their completion.

Freeways like the original Davidson lasted over half a century without any major repairs needed, before eventually being removed.

Is 1-2 years to most that we can expect MDOT to design and build roads here in Michigan?

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 8:40am

Lots and Lots of Kick backs... What is needed is a federal audit of were the road money went over the past 3 governors! I have subcontracted on road constitutions in Michigan LOTS and LOTS of kick backs ghost workers cost over runs!!!! How much did Carlo give back for NO bid contracts?????

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 8:41am

Who paying for all the bike lain????

jesse atwell
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 11:15am

Certainly not the bicyclists.

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 10:14am

Why? We pay taxes and we don't put the same wear and tear on the roads as cars and trucks.

Kristyn Hall
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 8:57am

I already pay to fix the d@mn roads. I pay a gas tax every week or two, and a registration fee every year. Anyone driving a car in Michigan is putting money into that fund on an ongoing basis.

Christopher Duco
Sat, 03/14/2020 - 8:12am

Did you know you pay Mi. sales tax on the federal tax added to the price of a gallon of gasoline?

Carp River
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 9:17am

Here's another perfect example of "ignorance in action". Michigan voters believe they are over taxed and the State of MI has the money somewhere. The reality is the state gas tax has hardly changed in decades and the MI tax burden is slightly lower than.... wait for it.....
West Virginia !!

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 10:05am

Both the gas tax dedicated to the Transportation Fund and the vehicle registration fee went up in 2016, based on Gov. Snyder's revisions to the tax law. Most of the extra money raised in 2016, 2017, and 2018 was used to pay off old road construction bonds issued under Governors Engler and Granholm. In 2019, we finally started to almost all that money on *current* road repairs.

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 8:02am

Sorry Carp R. but most states charge only gas tax on fuel purchases, In MI we pay both gas tax (on the lower side) but then sales tax which puts us near the top of all states east of the Mississippi for taxes paid on fuel purchases! No we don't aspire to beat CA or WA in that dept!!

Waking Up
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 10:20am

Carp, don't forget that unnecessary trade war terrorism is causing inflation that makes all development and repairs astronomically expensive. Say thank you to President Trump for Making America Mediocre Again! He single-handedly ruined 99% of new development that was scheduled to occur in Detroit! He's such a disaster for our country and our state.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 9:20am

Michiganders (and Americans in general) have long wanted to have benefits without fully paying for them. Look no further than the pensions and health benefits that have been promised to government employees, perks that are grossly underfunded. Since the majority of our population apparently wants rewards now without any additional financial pain, I suspect the road problem will be "solved" by bonding or loans, which puts most of the monetary burden off to another time and future generations.

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 9:33am

I currently will not support new funding for fixing the roads because of five things:
(1) I don't trust the State to build roads that will last. Within a year or two brand new roads that were completely replaced down to the dirt need repairs.
(2) Weight limits on the roads need to be lowered for the multi-axle behemoth semi trucks, like those with a dozen axles on the trailers. Go to Wisconsin, which has a Winter similar to ours, and a lower weight limit, and the roads are smooth and in good shape. Road engineers will tell you all that matters is weight per axle, I would like to see them explain Wisconsin roads then.
(3) The funds raised in the County need to stay in the county for road repairs right there. Our Governors plan allowed monies to go basically where ever she wanted them to. I don't live in the UP, but I am sure they are sick of supporting Detroit and other big cities like I am.
(4) Gas taxes should go to road maintenance 100%. This is a rampant problem with taxes in general both in the State and Federally, stop hiding funding sources in places where it doesn't belong, like schools in the gas tax. Politicians do this on purpose so the people don't know what things really cost or where they are already paying for it.
(5) Hybrid/Electric vehicles are subsidized already so when they get government tax breaks and rebates that comes out of the pool of tax money I already am forced to put money into. Yet those of us that drive combustion-engine vehicles pay significantly more in gas taxes to drive on the same roads. Level the playing field so no matter what you drive you pay the same rate per mile.

David Waymire
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 10:10am

The gasoline taxes collected in the UP don't come close to covering the cost of fixing and snow removal there. The reality is cities like Detroit are subsidizing the rural areas of this state, and have for years. And apparently you want to cut teacher pay? That doesn't seem to make much sense. And we already charge hybrid drivers much more on registration than gasoline powered cars.

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 11:27am

Possibly, thanks for making my argument about the gas taxes going 100% to the roads.
Please make an effort to stick to the facts and read what I said again, at no time did I say I wanted to cut teacher pay. I said taxes should be completely transparent and not be hidden from the taxpayer.
And our Governor recently threw a temper tantrum and cancelled $400 million in statewide road repair money so she could give Detroit $25 million dollars for their buses, sure sounds like we are all supporting Detroit to me.
I guess we have different definitions of "much". I also noticed you don't bother to mention the tax breaks hybrid/electric vehicles get or the rate reductions from the power companies which full-paying customers don't get, or a myriad of other benefits that can be researched at the US Department of Energy website.

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 1:23pm

I'd heard that truck weight limits were much higher in Michigan than surrounding states. I'm surprised it doesn't come up in debate more often.

Barry Visel
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 10:07am

When the State stops giving away revenue in the form of tax credits, deductions and exemptions then I’ll listen to arguments that we need higher taxes. BTW, those tax expenditures total roughly $40 billion, or roughly 2/3 of our total State budget.

jesse atwell
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 11:14am

Politicians have been hiding where the monies the state gets goes for decades. The amount of fat in the budget is hidden from view and never discussed...just passed on. They could start finding the money by completely eliminating useless agencies which don't accomplish anything productive. MEDC is a billion dollar a year drain. What has it done ?? Can you say....NOTHING? It's just another bloated, self serving gov't agency boondoggle which continues to support increasing demands for more and more budgeted monies each and every year. Supposedly, it has taken the responsibility for job training from business's to reduce cost for employee education. Nothing could be further from the truth. None of their so called programs have done anything except issue grants ...without oversight....or any substantiated results. All the other agencies operate under a zero based budgeting format, which simply provides that they must spend all the money budgeted or they will be penalized the next year....So the incentive is to spend everything given to them...with regard to ever consider the possibility of improving operational costs in manner or form. The legislature and Governor have worked in tandem to misdirect and misuse taxes by ignoring any oversight or control.

Barry Visel
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 9:47am

Actually all those tax expenditures are hiding in plain site as an appendix of our State budget. I don’t think anybody reads it.

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 10:28am

Michigan probably does need more money to actually fix the damn roads, but Gov. Whitmer's proposed $0.45 per gallon tax hike was both highly regressive, and excessive. As an opening move in "negotiations" for more roads money, it was just as effective as her line-item budget vetoes were in trying to come up with a 2019-20 state budget.

To regain the trust of the electorate, Granholm's next proposal to fund road repairs with a fuel tax should be less than half as large, take effect gradually over at least 2 years, possibly 3, and the first tranche of higher gas tax should *replace* the existing sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. Bumping the motor fuel (diesel too!) tax up by 5 or 6 cents per gallon every 6 months until we're paying at least $0.24/gallon more than today will be less of a shock to family budgets, trigger fewer and slower price increases for consumer and industrial goods and allow the capacity of Michigan's road construction companies to grow sustainably.

Before the school funding alarmists start screaming about the elimination of the sales tax on fuel - that money was more than replaced by the Granholm-vetoed general funds the state legislature's budget had allocated to "emergency" road and bridge repair. Use that first. Fix the school budgets for next year by pressuring districts to consolidate under-enrolled schools and SELL the closed buildings and/or land. The Detroit Public Schools Community District could solve at least half of their $500M building repair and renovation deficit if they simply sold their vacant real estate holdings.

John S.
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 1:33pm

1. What evidence is there that allowing 164,000 lbs spread over 11 axles (13,000 lbs./axle) results in no more damage than the federal 80,000 lb. weight limit? No expert, but so far as I can tell, the evidence is based on"theoretical" modelling and not actual observation of damage to roadways. Step 1: Tell members of the state legislature that they need to stop taking campaign money from the auto/trucking industry in exchange for the absurdly high weight limit in this state.
2. Remove sales tax from gasoline/diesel sales. Raise fuel taxes to Ohio levels to remain competitive. Replace lost sales tax revenue with a new sales tax on some services: auto repairs, legal services, accounting/tax/financial services, haircut/beauty shops, etc. We live in a service driven economy.

mddle of the mit
Thu, 01/30/2020 - 1:03am

I will tell you the evidence that higher weight vehicles put more stress on the road no matter the axle weight they have. I live where there are dirt roads to campgrounds. And dirt roads period. Some of those roads lead to campgrounds where RVs and motorhomes travel. Most of them are seasonal and only graded a couple of times per year. If you go after the spring melt when roads have been graded, it is rather smooth. If you go down those same trails in late June or the rest of the summer? Wash board and buummpy! Why? How? It's not from my SUV or any pick up or car. How do I know that is the case? Because if you go down the dirt roads that aren't graded at all that don't campgrounds? Smooth sailing.

It is literally the same thing I see in front of my rural residential home where I have people who own RV's parking and turning. And what do I see? Rips in the asphalt. Literally the asphalt being spread out and stretched until it starts weakening and that is what causes pot holes.

And the RV's? It is simply the way that they ride down the road that makes the bumps in the roads and the way people drive them with higher speeds. Come on up here and find out. You can drive any two track that you want. If it is the boonies and doesn't get much traffic or winter drain, it will be as smooth as pavement, maybe even smoother.

Ride the trails that get the RV's.

When you hit the chatter bumps, you better slow down to about10 mph.

2) Why remove the sales tax from a sale? Why do you want to add tax on something that you don't pay already, for something that you will pay for eventually? Not that I don't think those could be revenue sources, but why delete one and add a whole bunch? Because you don't use those services? Not that I don't agree that a gas tax is regressive. But essentially it is a user fee. And the sales tax is no different than the same percentage you pay for when you purchase anything else except for food. So, should we get rid of the sales tax on school supplies because it doesn't strictly go to schools? Why not? That is what are you are advocating for. Let me push it to it's end result.

I just thought that conservatives didn't want to tax anything that wasn't already taxed except cannabis.

If we have a sales tax on legal services, should those taxes go strictly to the AG's office?

If we put a sales tax on mechanics, should it go to a board that allocates funds to who?

If we take Matt's advice and tax food, should that tax go to the MI Health and Human Services board?

How far are you willing to go to advocate for disseminating funds to the proper service area those taxes are taken from and prevent them from going into the general fund or to schools?

As opposed to taking money from schools and OUR children's education in an environment where most of us agree that our kids need more than a Highschool education to make a living in America?

Welcome to conservative America!

The year?


Where the rich are richer than any KING could have DREAMED OF and they still complain that the poor have refrigerators and flat screen TVs. Which they will say even KINGS could never have dreamt of!

But it's all about how good the poor are doing even though they can't afford to hardly pay the rent that allows them that there refrigerator, let alone the food that is in it. And some, if not most are needing help that they want to take away.

Gerry Niedermaier
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 2:14pm

How about reversing the massive tax cuts to corporations in MI that Snyder et.al., gifted them all? I guess we could all absorb those missing funds????

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 8:22am

You mean the big credits from Granholm which are killing us now?

middle of the mit
Thu, 01/30/2020 - 1:07am

Tax cuts, tax credits aren't they all the same?

Why are ya hitting down on GM now?

Because they didn't fill their promise? Because they closed plants after MI and the Feds gave them tax cuts and MI gave them Right To Work?

It is literally your dream world dude!

We are on our way to Michissippi!

Tax cuts tax cuts and wage cuts lead to what?

Michissippi! Or Kansas!

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 4:04pm

Where is all the money we have paid to fix the d@mn roads. And then fix them CORRECTLY!!

Let's use out of state contractors.

Ronald VanAtta
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 7:44pm

The question that needs to be answered. Why does it take 12 BILLION dollars more for Michigan to operate than the state of Georgia? We have almost the same population. The average family income is almost $2,000.00 higher in Georgia. No way Michigan's budget should be 12 billion more than Georgia's.

Bye Bye
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 10:27am

You should move there and find out.

Henry Staffi
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 9:11pm

The reason Michiganders dont want to pay for it is because all the tax dollars collected in the past, supposedly for roads, was suppose to pay for roads, BUT DID NOT.

So now we are suppose to believe a new tax will be used for the roads. Under democrats, good luck with that!

middle of the mit
Wed, 01/29/2020 - 9:05pm

Could you please point to the last year there were democrats in control of the House, Senate and Governor in MI?

a looong time ago? Republicans have had their hands on the budget control process for how many decades and you are still complaining about what? Things you think should be cheaper and don't want to pay for?

All the while bragging about how much corporate and high end pay is up?

All the while telling us that the low end workers are what is causing a rise in prices?

Ha ha ha ha!

Paul Bortolussi
Sun, 02/02/2020 - 7:57am

I think we better start looking at why our roads are crumbling in Michigan. The things I feel we need to address;
1. Assess if our allowable truck weights need to be lowered. Our allowed truck weights are higher than normal, this damages roads.
2. Assess which industries are contributing to the road damage, who is running the heaviest trucks, and get that group to become part of the fix. There has to be ownership and some responsibility.
3. We need to somehow create a repair fund generated by the people responsible for the most damage, perhaps tax the fuels that those damaging heavy weight vehicles use.
4. Take a look at who is doing the road work once the money is available. There are proper ways to lay roadbeds, both asphalt and concrete. What methods are being used, have they proven they can handle the jobs properly and successfully?
So in summary, lower allowable truck weights. Generate income to directly fix the roads. Generate “healthy road” use income, like tolls. Research how to properly fix the roads and hire proven, preferably local contractors to do it.

Christopher Duco
Sat, 03/14/2020 - 8:09am

Michigan roads are not maintained properly but it has nothing to do with money, it has to do with money management. The people who create the budget don’t allocate the funding based on reality driven priorities. They fund idiotic crap rather than safety related issues first and completely. If MiOSHA did an investigation they would find that our tax dollars are spent on frivolous garbage instead of safety related road maintenance. I’d advocate for an investigation but the fine would be more wasted tax dollars unless..... unless the fines were charged to the idiots who mismanage the budget.