How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
Editor’s note: Some of the Safe Roads Yes campaign’s media activities are led by Martin Waymire, a Lansing-based public relations firm which also does work for The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. The firm has no role in Bridge's reporting on Proposal 1.
|Who:||Safe Roads Yes, a pro-Proposal 1 consortium|
|What:||“Vote yes!,” 2-minute web video|
Pity the backers of Proposal 1 who have to boil down its benefits into a 30-second spot, or even a two-minute one. Its complexities and many moving parts have made it an easy target for opponents. This longer web video encompasses claims also made in shorter, broadcast-length ads made by Safe Roads Yes.
Proposal 1 can be described as a plan to make sure state taxes paid at fuel pumps go to fix roads, and to protect the state’s education funding and local revenue sharing in the process. But that only hints at what’s behind it – a constitutional amendment and a 10-bill package that makes all that happen.
A slightly less simple explanation may be this: The governor has called for $1.2 billion in funding a year to fix and maintain Michigan’s unquestionably awful roads. State residents already pay 19 cents per gallon at the pump, along with 6 percent sales tax. The Legislature, which crafted Proposal 1 in last year’s lame-duck session, couldn’t agree on a less complicated way to raise the money, and came up with this plan to take gasoline out of the sales-tax base and replace the hole that left in the budget with a one-cent sales-tax increase, while simultaneously raising the gas tax, and...
This is getting complicated, isn’t it? Maybe this Bridge primer will help.
On to the ad.
Relevant text of the ad
“...Proposal 1 is our last best chance to deliver safer roads for all of our families. There’s no Plan B. There’s just Proposal 1. ...Proposal 1 provides $1.2 billion in funding for safer roads and bridges. ...We get guarantees from road builders. Every road project will come with a warranty. If the road isn’t built right, the builder pays, not taxpayers. We’re guaranteed in the state Constitution that every dime you pay at the pump will go to transportation. Lansing can’t spend it on anything else. And the School Aid Fund is guaranteed in the Constitution, too, with every dollar going to education."
Statements under review
Proposal 1 is our last best chance to deliver safer roads for all of our families. There’s no Plan B. There’s just Proposal 1.
A bit of dystopian hyperbole here, as “last best chance” implies that voters are standing at a pothole-pocked crossroads, with no avenue for funding road improvement if the ballot measure fails. Gov. Rick Snyder and other supporters have said repeatedly there’s “no Plan B” should Proposal 1 go down in flames. And that’s true to the extent that there’s nothing else on the table in Lansing. In a drawer under the table? Probably there’s a Plan B, or several Plans B. One such plan, as critics on both sides of Proposal 1 have noted, would be for legislators to ante up for road improvements themselves by, you know, voting.
Proposal 1 provides $1.2 billion in funding for safer roads and bridges.
This is mostly true. However, if you had the impression this means that every dollar immediately goes to road and bridge repairs, you’d be mistaken. The $1.2 billion raised annually doesn’t go 100 percent toward roads and bridges until the third year after the proposal, should it pass, goes into effect. For the first two years, most of the money would go to pay off debt incurred in 1997, when the state relied on bonds to finance its last burst of road maintenance. But by fiscal year 2017-18, an estimated $1.2 billion would be available every year.
We get guarantees from road builders. Every road project will come with a warranty. It the road isn’t built right, the builder pays, not taxpayers.
One of the 10 bills in the package, House Bill 5460 provides, “where possible” for “pavement warranties for full replacement or appropriate repair for contracted construction work” on projects with a cost of over $1 million. So maybe not every project, but as any road builder can tell you, they’re expensive. Costs per mile depend on too many factors to give a ballpark per-mile figure, but the vast majority of projects will run well over $1 million, and the “where possible” qualifier was added to separate contracted projects (again, virtually all of the larger projects) from those performed by local road commissions. The state will also produce a report on these warranties, to be available to the public. True.
We’re guaranteed in the state Constitution that every dime you pay at the pump goes to transportation.
The removal of sales tax from gasoline, should Proposal 1 pass, will usher in a new, gradually rising fuel tax, based on the wholesale price, and all of that money would go to transportation, true. There are provisions in state law that a portion of fuel-tax revenues go for mass transit and even recreational trails (buses and snowmobiles use gas, too). At least 90 percent, however, will be for roads and bridges.
And the School Aid Fund is guaranteed in the Constitution, too, with every dollar going to education.
Taking the sales tax off gasoline means taking gasoline out of the sales-tax base, and that means a big hit to the entities that rely on sales tax, primarily the School Aid Fund, local-government revenue sharing and the state’s general fund. So Proposal 1, besides boosting the sales tax a penny per dollar, adjusts the amount going to education and provides that it be used exclusively for school districts, community colleges, career and technical educations programs, scholarships for students in those programs, and their employees’ retirement systems. Public universities are excluded from the School Aid Fund. True.
Even in a longer-than-usual ad, it’s impossible to get to every nuance of Proposal 1 in two minutes. In its broad strokes, this ad toes the line on factual claims. Where it stretches the truth a bit is in its claim that the state has no other options for road funding if Proposal 1 goes down. It does have an option. It’s called the Legislature.