‘There’s just got to be a better way than 45 cents per gallon’

*Not all respondents answered all the questions In Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal, she has suggested a 45-cent gas tax increase. However, many local residents aren’t willing to pay this tax.

CADILLAC — If there was a 45-cent hike in gas taxes, Manton resident Kevin Vanderwall said he couldn’t afford to drive to work anymore and would have to find a different job.

Cadillac resident Debbie Grimes said if it happens she might not be able to get to her doctor appointments anymore.

“There’s just got to be a better way than 45 cents per gallon,‘ she said.

In Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal, she has suggested a 45-cent gas tax increase and proposed spending $500 million more on K-12 education, tax breaks for seniors and low-income earners and increases in corporate income taxes.

The budget proposes three 15-cent motor fuel tax increases from Oct. 1, 2019 through Oct. 1, 2020.

The budget states the plan will generate $2.5 billion in new annual transportation revenue, which will be deposited into a new Fixing Michigan Roads Fund and target Michigan’s most highly traveled and commercially important state and local roads.

To offset the increase in the motor fuel tax for low-income working families, the plan doubles the Earned Income Tax Credit over two years, according to the budget.

“While this plan will require some sacrifice by all of us, the benefits will be realized for decades to come,‘ the budget states.

This isn’t a sacrifice many local residents are willing to make, though.

The Cadillac News put out an online survey to its social media to see how readers felt about gasoline and its impact on their lives.

After a brief description of the tax, respondents were asked if they were willing to pay the increased gas tax. About 64 percent said no, 3 percent said yes and 2 percent said maybe.

Most respondents said that gas and other taxes are already too high.

One respondent said it’s hard enough living in Michigan already. They pay rent, bills and maybe a few groceries and then their paycheck is gone.

“God forbid I have an emergency,‘ they wrote.

Neither Grimes nor Vanderwall were willing to pay the gas tax.

Grimes is skeptical about where the money would go and said she doesn’t think it will fix the roads.

Vanderwall also thought the roads wouldn’t be fixed, though he does think they are bad.

“I’ve never ever seen the roads look so horrible,‘ he said.

When it comes to how significantly a hike in gas taxes would impact their lives, 54 percent of respondents said they would be significantly impacted, 9 percent said there would be a slightly significant impact and 6 percent said it would have an insignificant impact.

Many respondents wrote about how they would have to cut back on traveling and some expressed concern about being able to afford driving to work.

One respondent said both they and their husband drive nearly 100 miles a day to and from work. Another said many people in Northern Michigan have to drive a lot getting to places.

Vanderwall works in Cadillac and it’s about a 13-mile drive to get there. He drives a 2006 mini-van, so it’s not a new model and still takes quite a bit of gas, he said.

If gas taxes went up he would probably have to find work closer to where he lives, which would limit his job opportunities.

Grimes said she travels to Traverse City for doctor appointments and has to spend more money on gas for that.

She also has a 3-year-old and wants to travel with them throughout Michigan, but as gas prices go up she can’t afford to do it.

When you’re a mom and you want to sign kids up for events and activities, you have to sit back and think about how much gas it will cost to transport them, she said.

She has family in Illinois and it would be harder for them to see each other if gas gets high, but she’s also worried that an increase in gas prices will have a trickle effect.

To get food from fields to stock stores takes gas, and if that price rises then other prices will rise like food, housing and more.

“It’s going to be a chain reaction the whole way through,‘ she said.

Northern Michigan would also lose tourism revenue and people wouldn’t be able to run their boats as much on the lakes.

She thinks people would move from more rural cities like Cadillac to urban areas like Traverse City or Grand Rapids.

In bigger cities there are more things closer together to do and people wouldn’t have to spend as much gas money, she said.

When asked if they’d be willing to pay more taxes in another area to fix the roads, 55 percent of respondents said no, 12 percent said yes and 2 percent said maybe.

Many respondents said Michigan residents are already taxed enough.

As for suggestions for other funding possibilities, an increase in toll roads was suggested, a 1 or 2 percent increase in sales tax, taxes on marijuana and taxes on junk food.

“I’m willing to pay the gas tax if something can be done about car insurance,‘ one respondent wrote. “I understand the need but something has to be done.‘

If it came down to it,Vanderwall said he would want to pay money directly to fixing the roads instead of getting taxed for it and losing mobility.

He would prefer to pay the tax out of his income or from cash up front at a county building.

He thinks it would help people like him who drive bigger vehicles, he said.

What’s the budget proposal’s next step?

Whitmer’s budget proposal has not been embraced by the GOP-controlled Senate, where the Appropriations Committee backed a $396 million, or 2.7 percent, boost.

Senate Republicans have not ruled out a more modest tax increase to fix the roads but are not planning to propose an alternative until the summer.

With Whitmer promising to not sign a spending plan unless the road-funding issue is resolved, budget talks appear likely to stretch over the summer months and potentially into the fall. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a Traverse City Republican who chairs the K-12 budget subcommittee, said the biggest disparity between Whitmer’s budget and the Senate plan is “we’re dealing with today’s revenues‘ while the governor is relying on passage of 45-cents-a-gallon gasoline and diesel tax hikes that GOP legislative leaders have rejected.

“I can’t work on a budget on things that don’t exist,‘ Schmidt said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cadillac News