Yes, it takes billions to fix Michigan roads. No, taxpayers don’t want to pay.

Bridge reporter Lindsay VanHulle leads a panel discussion Thursday on Michigan road funding. (Bridge photos by Alexandra Schmidt)

The question isn’t whether it will take a lot more money to fix Michigan roads. The question, according to an array of experts Thursday, is whether politicians have the will to do it.

At a Solutions Summit sponsored by The Center for Michigan (the nonprofit organization that includes Bridge Magazine) and Public Sector Consultants in Lansing, speaker after speaker said bluntly that state roads will continue to deteriorate without an influx of somewhere from $2 billion to $2.5 billion more a year.

Related: Michigan Senate panel rejects Whitmer gas tax, as budget dance continues

New Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a 45-cent increase in the gas tax, which would raise an estimated $2.5 billion a year and give Michigan the highest gas tax in the country. Many have balked at the cost, including a number of Republican leaders.

And a poll released this week indicates three out of four Michigan residents oppose Whitmer’s gas tax proposal.

I’ve never seen a time when the public was willing to tax themselves for anything,” Bob Emerson, former Democratic Senate Minority Leader, said at the roads forum, which drew about 70 people to the Lansing Center. “But clearly we can see that there is a problem. I don’t think the public will ever accept that it’s needed.”

About 40 percent of Michigan roads are considered to be in poor condition, according to Jeff Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants. In heavily traveled Grand Rapids and Detroit, half of roads are rated to be in poor condition.

A crowd of about 70 people attended a panel discussion Thursday about road funding in Lansing.

“Roads are a daily reminder about multiple choices we’ve made that span years and even decades,” Williams said. “In 2008, there was a proposal to increase gas tax by 3 cents over three years,” Williams said. That was the funding level needed to fix road issues then. The proposal failed, and now the state needs a 45-cent gas tax increase (unless $2.5 billion can be raised from other sources) to get Michigan’s roads in decent shape.

Michigan invests less in its roads per capita than any other state in the Midwest.

Related: Watch video, read quotes from experts at our Detroit roads summit
A deal to fix Michigan’s roads looks to roll into summer, at least

“How did we get here? It’s a lack of funding,” said Andy Schor, Lansing mayor and former Democratic state legislator. “It’s not a surprise to anyone.”

One political problem with road funding is that the Legislature appropriated an additional $1.2 billion in 2015. The public doesn’t understand why that didn’t fix the problem, said state Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond.

“State government is broken,” Yaroch said. “I don’t trust our state government, and I’m here (in the Legislature). This is not a Republican or Democratic thing. Until we give the taxpayers evidence we’re doing things right, I don’t think they’ll want to give us more money.”

Yaroch argued that the state should start by using existing “money hiding in the budget” for road funding. “There are needs and wants,” he said. “We have $10 million for arts and culture. I’m sorry, but if you blow out your tire on the way to the art museum, you’re not seeing art that day. So one’s a need and one’s a want.”

While the $10 million Yaroch cited is just .04 percent of the $2.5 billion additional annual funding needed for roads, the representative said he believes there are many such examples that should be excised from the budget before asking taxpayers for more money.

A panel discussion in Lansing examined both the need for more road funding, and the political difficulty of getting that funding. Bridge reporter Riley Beggin leads one of the expert panels.

Julie Bennet, senior vice president of Public Sector Consultants, said the 2015 road funding compromise “was a missed opportunity that wasted a lot of political capital. And now we’re back to the well.

“My concern is that we’re going to end up with (another) political compromise,” Bennet said. “It’s not a political problem, it’s an engineering problem.”

Michigan Chief Deputy Treasurer Jeff Guilfoyle: “A 45.cent tax is going to be unpopular, but that’s the amount of money it takes.”

Judd Herzer, infrastructure policy adviser for the governor agreed. “The average Michigander is paying $640 in car repairs as a result of our crummy roads,” Herzer said. “To ask them to pay more for something that doesn’t actually fix the problem is a nonstarter.

“The cost only goes up,” Herzer said. “We have to do something today to hold off higher costs.”

“We have reports upon reports sitting on shelves that all come to the same conclusion, we need more money, said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, a trade association. “(But) if we do another false fix, voters are going to be even more frustrated.”

“This is an interesting test case for Michigan,” said Michigan Chief Deputy Treasurer Jeff Guilfoyle. “A  45-cent (gas) tax is going to be unpopular but that’s the amount of money it takes. Our roads are crumbling. Can we fix that problem in the light of the potential political unpopularity of raising taxes?”

Another Solutions Summit about Michigan Roads will be held in Grand Rapids from 9-11 a.m. April 25 at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce

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Robert Honeyman
Fri, 04/19/2019 - 7:43am

I'd gladly pay $0.45 per gallon or more to fix a basic piece of infrastructure that makes an economy and society viable. Yet, businesses are as dependent on that infrastructure as the rest of us. But for a legislature run by the anti-tax party, Whitmer could suggest a compromise that increases the tax load on large corporations while limiting the per gallon tax. How about a plan that increases business tax revenues by $1 billion per year and reduces the gas tax to $0.25 per gallon? The anti-tax party won't go for it, and the general electorate won't either.

What a mess.

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 1:19pm

At $0.45 I can see NO people for out of state coming to spend time in MI>> And I can see people of MI driving up to 2 hours to OH, IL IN to buy gas!!

David Waymire
Fri, 04/19/2019 - 3:49pm

Don, the price of gasoline has increased by 60 cents since December. I still see out of state plates all the time...including at Boyne Mountain and on the backs of snowmobile trailers.
And anybody who drives 2 hours (using 6 gallons of fuel at 20 mpg, i.e. $12 dollars worth) to save $9 of gasoline taxes on a 20 gallon fillup.....not to mention their time...even at minimum wage, that's close to $ you are saying to save $9 that will fix the roads, people will spend a minimum $22. Hmmm...if this is how anti-taxers think, it explains a lot.

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 8:40pm

Don,its clear you make good money and dont care if they hike up our gas prices again for there miss management? We dont agree, they have pulled this 4 times in the last 15 years and we end up in the same place very time?? and your answer is to just go with it??? NO!!! They need to look where they can cut waste and fast, just look at the book?? who put these clowns in charge? who in there right mind would let these twits spend more money without somone checking every dollor they spend now. WAKE UP SON!

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 8:52am

One critical item not mentioned: What will the increase in tax be for diesel fuel? It should e higher than for gasoline tax since heavier vehicles, which are typically diesel-powered, cause disproportionately more damage to the roads.

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 11:27am

I tried to take your survey, but my preferred option to increase availability of funds for fixing our transportation infrastructure wasn't listed. I still think an increase in the State income tax is the best option...and apparently no one has even put it on the table. We need to set up a system that will also tax electric vehicle owners, and I think the income tax method would be less regressive for low income people than any other option.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 04/19/2019 - 12:15pm

Still no mention on the lack of value for the tax dollars already collected.

Is there any wonder why there is no support for Whitmer's gas tax?

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 1:22pm

Your are right,,, all them NO bid contractes giving to Englers, GrandMold and Snyders supporters to build sub-Standard roads,,,,, I-696 all ready is forming pot holes!!! ;-(

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 5:21pm

Exactly, when you say sub-standard roads and road repairs. Since when is it an appropriate road repair to just dump asphalt into potholes and make mounds instead? The public deserves to be re-assured the road repairs will be completed with appropriate materials by competent contractors that guarantee their work will last at least 10 years before repairs are needed. I know it will cost more so make less repairs each year but do it right the first time. Each fall I marvel at all the new projects being started just before the end of the states fiscal year. Not all of us are idiots.

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 12:44pm

It's all about the money and none of them care about the value for the money.

We may not like paying taxes, just like we would like to get the other things we spend money on for less, but at least we are getting added value for the more we pay in everything but the roads.
Not in this article or everything else I have hear are those promoting spending more of other people's money shown any interest in the value we get, they say nothing about accountability of the money, or the programs and people spending it, nothing about how the roads are being built or maintained. Will there even be a 'Roads' engineer on the dais?
If these people promoting the added taxes truly we interested in getting the public on board, they would change their approach by talking about what more we will be getting [how the roads will last longer, how the roads with new technologies will improve our travel and be ready for the future, they will begin by asking and listening to those whose money they are wanting to get what do we expect for our money, what do we think the new/repaired roads should belike, what are the things that they are most dissatisfied with.
Everything is telling us how uninformed we are, how we lack the capacity to understand, just open our wallets. At best, a person will get a few minutes to say share their frustrations, the problem with that is they aren't part of a conversation and it is in the conversations where understanding is gained and decisions are made.
Why travel a few hours each way to Lansing to be told what we have heard time and again for years, to hear a bunch of people vent and watch the bobbing heads on dais.

The other great failing of the people demanding more money is they try to isolate it, they say it is the state money and what the Feds do and what the locals do isn't their responsibility, the reality is when we drive the roads all blends together, and since other than taxes time [like now] there is no effort separating experiences with the call for more money.

A simply test; what are the failings of the current road work process, lack of communication from start through on going use, lack of innovation, lack of management [both the work and the expectations], lack of engagement, lack of consideration [the roads people are in their own world and don't want to be disturbed, will there be any engineers on the dais?], lack of accountability, lack of performance metrics [ones that the public can measure]. The test is if anybody on the dais of the upcoming session asks questions, regardless if they listen.

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 1:21pm

Why not get the money back from Engler, Grand Moold and Snyer for all the shitty roads that they let be builted in MI!!! I-696 is all ready forming pot holes!!!!

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 2:06pm

"...proposed a 45-cent increase in the gas tax, which would raise an estimated $2.5 billion a year and give Michigan the highest gas tax in the country." I have read in many different sources that of that $2.5B only $1.9B is going to fix the roads. The rest of the money is going into the general fund. Why??? If she wants 45 cents/gallon, then she needs to apply ALL of the $2.5B. Unfortunately what actually will probably end up happening is she wants 45, the R's will say too much, she will say 30, and the R's will say 25 and let's call it good. Then they will pat themselves all on the back saying how they didn't let the governor get her way.

James Roberts
Sun, 04/21/2019 - 12:29pm

Exactly. If this is truly the crisis presented, then why use it as an opportunity to redirect funds ALREADY being spent on roads to Governor Whitmers' other priorities. The true number is almost 40% of the increase will allow her to redirect the existing $900 Million from the gas sales tax and the future general revenue funds of $500 million from the 2015 gas act commitment to her friends. This is truly a bait and switch as she knows taxpayers are not going to be thrilled with increases to special interest groups that have long had their hand out. Sorry all but so far us productive taxpayers insist on accountability for future funds.

Gary Lea
Fri, 04/19/2019 - 2:18pm

To my fellow Michiganders; our previous Governor Rick Snyder made certain to charge electric vehicles with an equivalent gasoline tax beginning in 2017, when diesel and gasoline taxes were each increased to 26.3 cents / gallon. Registration of my new 2017 battery electric vehicle (BEV) included an electric vehicle fee of $100 (whatever that is for) and a Michigan electric gas tax fee of $35 dollars. At 26.3 cents / gallon, that is state tax on 133 gallons of liquid fuel; at my car's 107 mpg equivalent combined city / highway rating, I'm being required to pay for over 14,000 miles of driving a year...but up front, not as I drive throughout the year. I have no idea what that $100 electric vehicle fee pays for, but imagine it may cover the loss of tax revenues paid by refueling stations and auto service / oil change establishments. I'd prefer to pay a gasoline equivalent tax based upon my miles driven, for I'm a senior citizen who no longer commutes and barely drives 3,000 miles a year. We already pay tax on our electric bill; perhaps Michigan should mandate separate metering of vehicle recharging and base its gasoline equivalent upon that rather than upfront average-based taxation.

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 4:27pm

Who is designing our roads maybe that where we need to start bad designed more work for road construction and job security these , maybe we should require a 20 year warranty for all roads from are road builders and engineers

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 7:22pm

The tax payers are right! The $.45 is not to fix the roads, it is in large part to redirect the monies earmarked for roads by the Snyder administration to other priorities by this new administration. Second anyone with any knowledge of the construction industry in Michigan knows there is a huge shortage of capacity in the supplying companies from top to bottom and it can't handle + $2.5 billion dumped on it, without poor results. Given our demographics this shortage is unlikely to change. The $645 per year repair bill is a bogus propaganda claim made up by biased sources with no way to substantiate. For these reasons we need changes in how we prioritize our investments in the road work we can do and most need as a opposed to spreading our tax dollars across the board before we raise more taxes. Our road situation happened over decades and will take decades to fix like it or not.

Geoffrey Owen
Sat, 04/20/2019 - 3:00pm

3 of 4 don't want to pay? That's absurd. When gas is $3/gal drivers pay. When gas is $4/gal drivers pay. Drivers will pay. They may not like it but they will pay. Y ou can't drive through McDonalds and order and not pay. You can't drive to the supermarket and fill up your cart and not pay. More damage caused to your car than what the tax will cost? 3 of 4 drivers need to drive through Ontario, Pennsylvanis, Ohio, New York, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. What they won't find are roads like we have in Michigan. Our roads are the worst because our leaders from both parties have allowed them to crumble. It's is far past time to address this and fix the roads. Our infrastructure was once the envy of America, and today it's a tax give away to companies that we beg to stay.

Beth B
Sat, 04/20/2019 - 6:26pm

If taxpayers don’t want to pay for roads, who do they think is going to pay for them? Who paid to have the roads created in the first place?

The proposed hike on gas tax creates a constitutionally guaranteed stream of revenue for our transportation fund.

An increase of sales or income tax requires a vote of the people and the money goes into the general fund, not in an earmarked fund. Plus, the wait to get something on the ballot and then implement will take so long that the roads will simply continue to deteriorate.

Raising money directly for the transportation fund allows the state to divert existing revenue from the roads back to the general fund for things like the criminal justice system, higher education, and revenue sharing with counties and local municipalities. Then we can also return money to the K-12 fund that has been shifted into the general fund to replace the revenue diverted to the roads.

We must pay for the services we want.

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 9:42am

"We must pay for the services we want." What if we don't want the services we are getting, you are telling us to pay more for what we don't want.
The only way we seem to have for getting people's attention on government services is to keep cutting or not increasing the money they get to spend, for they surely are ignoring everything else. The new governor only talks money, the old governor only talked money, the new legislators only talk money, the old legislators only talk money , so the money is the only language they know, even you only talk money.
When you offer a viable alternative to tightening the purse strings you are no different than the politicians.

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 7:24pm

Ask yourself why we pay amongst the highest gasoline tax now, but spend the least amount on road maintenance? Let's start by spending the money where it was intended in the first place. Sure, you can further increase gasoline tax by 45 cents per gallon, but how much of that will actually make it to the road repair budget without being diverted like the current gasoline taxes

Sat, 04/20/2019 - 7:31pm

Seems the politicians always come up with 'quick fixes' to generate money quickly. Permanent trailer plates come to mind. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having a plate I don't have to renew yearly, but towing my trailer generates more wear and makes the state zero revenue, aside from the slight decrease in my fuel economy. Registration for cars keeps going up, fuel prices keep going up, so people buy hybrids and EV to avoid fuel costs. The tax on EV's for example is disproportionately low for the number of miles driven on roadways. So EV cars cause more unfunded road maintenance issues than other vehicles, but raising the EV tax would make EV cars less attractive. How high will the gas tax be raised when enough people are driving EV cars, aside from the people who can't afford to buy one?
I'm not against EV and hybrid cars, just pointing out a 'future scenario'

Andrew J Batz
Sat, 04/20/2019 - 8:32pm

The problem once again, our state has been run by dems/libs, look at every state,city run by these whesial rats! Dems want more and more ???? how many times have they raised our taxes already to fix the roads and just wasted the money??? do people even know this point? no . Dems will just keep taking more and more, at the same time they use our money for there pet project's to keep the twits voting for them. It's about power and money, they will just keep taking more and more, we the people must see where all our money goes now, after that we can let them know what needs to be cut so we can pay for our roads. It's not that hard, but they better no put any more taxes on us that is for sure. People of Michigan just look closely at every state run by dems?? it's not that hard, they destroy everything they touch. Look at each state and there record and you will see it's always the same,lie ,tax and repeat!!! WAKE THE HELL UP PEOPLE!!!We need answers before these clown's do anything. Dont just go with it again.

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 10:51am

How do we even know that the .45cent tax increase will really even go for the roads. I thought the wholesale gas tax and the increase Registration fees was supposed to fix the roads. I don't see any difference. There shouldn't be anymore tax increases until our government has better oversight and accountability on where all the money is going

Chuck Fellows
Sun, 04/21/2019 - 10:51am

Traveling through the eastern, southern and western states in a vehicle reveals that in urban centers across the nation road are in need of repair and that some repairs are worse than the deteriorated road that came before. Michigan is not alone in this dilemma. Why has this happened? Poor quality of construction, lack of maintenance and political considerations overruling the common good. To correct those deficiencies public participation in the process is required. provides opportunities to engage (take a look at PA 51 of 1951) and tells you who is paying for the politician. Further, there is an organization out there that has been successful in ending political corruption linked to money, Want to fix political problems - you have the tools, use them. Participate, take 15 minutes of your day four times a week.

Don Sepanski
Sun, 04/21/2019 - 10:53am

Michigan has almost the highest gasoline taxes in the country.

Michigan is near the bottom of spending on roads in the country.

It's a spending problem. It is that simple.

This state is spending gas money on things other than roads.

Spend ALL gas tax money on roads.

The other areas of funding will have to share the funding from other taxes.

I don't care what other items in this state don't get funded.

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 12:33pm

I would love to see the budget, show me where our money is going .. and show me how much our so called leaders are being paid to not take care of the problems...

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 9:25am

There is no accountability for the monies we as taxpayers have already paid. The state has increased our vehicle registration fees and increased gas taxes even after we voted NO a few years ago. Within the Governor's proposal, it states within that 60% of that funding will NOT go toward the roads but to the general fund to replace money that's been taken out. The rest of the money will go toward SE Michigan. In other words, roads north of Detroit won't see any improvement.
Taxpayers are tired of lies and slight of hand with our money.

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 11:43am

2 months ago gas in Alpena was $2.03 per gallon last week it was $2,99 That is almost 50% increase. Go figure. R.L.

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 8:01pm

Living in hartland twp. Mi we passed millage to fix local roads I'm paying extra$300 avg. anually along with the rest of the community. We see progress locally if other communities did the same as well as the state doing it's portion we could have good roads.

Douglas Campbell
Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:40pm

The governor could release a billion dollars per year from the state budget by granting an executive pardon to every harmless stoner currently incarcerated for simple possession. This could be done without the cooperation of the Legislature or anybody else.

It's all about priorities.

This is one of the promises I made when I ran for governor in 2002: Every Tuesday at 4:20, I will sign an executive pardon for everybody incarcerated for simple possession. Admittedly, I was motivated by the injustice and not the potential cost savings, but either way, it's clearly not a priority of the Whitmer administration

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 8:56am

Why should we pay again for bad roads.. this week they started preparing I-696 from I-75 to I -94 they road that we paid to have rebuilt last sunner<<< PPiss poor job by one of Snyers supporters,,,,

Tom Stillings
Fri, 04/26/2019 - 10:37am

After we, the voters, turned down a gas tax increase at the ballot box, our “beneficent” legislators imposed it anyway. They declared it to be the only solution to our road problem. Where is THAT money? Now our omniscient governor adds insult to injury looking for yet another 45 cents, giving us what I’m told will be the highest gas tax in the nation.
It is time to just say “no”. Let the legislature learn to prioritize spending. No more money. They tax us too much already. As for my position, I think we should repeal that last increase as well. Revive the plan put forth by then Senator Pat Colbeck which would have paid more money for roads by reducing other program expenditures.

Tom Stillings
Fri, 04/26/2019 - 10:37am

After we, the voters, turned down a gas tax increase at the ballot box, our “beneficent” legislators imposed it anyway. They declared it to be the only solution to our road problem. Where is THAT money? Now our omniscient governor adds insult to injury looking for yet another 45 cents, giving us what I’m told will be the highest gas tax in the nation.
It is time to just say “no”. Let the legislature learn to prioritize spending. No more money. They tax us too much already. As for my position, I think we should repeal that last increase as well. Revive the plan put forth by then Senator Pat Colbeck which would have paid more money for roads by reducing other program expenditures.

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 6:42pm

Michigan needs to reduce the excessive truck weight that’s in effect on the roads. Michigan has the highest weight restrictions of any state and between the harsh winter weather and heavy trucks , the roads just are crumbling !

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 9:39pm

I would really like to know, where the money from Granholms sin tax went?? Was that not put in place to fix our roads??

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 8:29pm

We're all moving out of this shithole state, so it doesn't matter anyway. We go to college, and then we move.