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GOP states discover a tax hike they have to like: for roads

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In an April 12, 2019, photo, Interstate Highway 75 construction continues in Troy, Michigan. After passing waves of tax cuts in recent years, some Republican-dominated states have decided it's time to make a big exception, calling for tax increases to fix roads crumbling from years of low funding and deferred maintenance. (Associated Press: CARLOS OSORIO)

LANSING, Mich. — After passing waves of tax cuts in recent years, some lawmakers in several Republican-dominated states have decided it’s time to make a big exception and are pushing for tax increases to fix roads that are crumbling from years of neglect.

In the past month alone, the Republican governors of Ohio, Alabama and Arkansas have signed fuel tax hikes. Meanwhile, proposed increases are being considered by three legislatures that are fully or partly GOP-controlled, including a whopping 45-cents-a-gallon hike in Michigan.

The moves show a growing willingness in conservative places to take on the fearsome politics of higher taxes, at least for infrastructure. Republicans who otherwise support lower taxes are acknowledging that cutting government spending elsewhere in the budget won’t cover the cost of repairing the many miles of potholed roads and creaky bridges.

“It’s going to take $2.5 billion a year,” said Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah of Michigan’s road-building needs. “Anyone who thinks you can cut even half of that out of other elements of the state budget without having significant ramifications to real people, you’re smoking something that’s not legal.”

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won election last year after running on the slogan “Fix the Damn Roads.” Her plan would gradually add 45 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas by October 2020, which would be more than double the current 26-cents-per-gallon gas tax and make it the highest in the country. GOP legislative leaders have dismissed the proposed hike as way too much, but they are leaving open the prospect of passing a more modest increase in the face of intense pressure from the business community.

In some states, Republican-leaning interests have become the biggest backers of higher taxes for this purpose, which is seen as necessary for economic development.

While consumers are acutely conscious of prices at the pump, legislators are struggling to get around the difficult realities of the fuel surcharge that funds transportation projects. They are also facing the echoes of the tax cut promises they made in winning over many heartland states in the last decade — that getting tougher on spending wouldn’t mean worse services.

In most states, the excise tax rate per gallon is fixed and doesn’t rise with inflation. And the federal gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993. Meanwhile, consumers are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles or are driving less, depressing revenue. The real purchasing power of the federal gas tax has fallen by 40% over the past quarter-century, and repair costs rise significantly when roads decline to a rating of poor or worse.

This winter, Michigan’s Department of Transportation had to close 10 miles of Interstate 75 in suburban Detroit — one of the state’s most heavily trafficked stretches — because of vehicle damage from cracks and potholes.

In Ohio, new Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who attacked his opponent in the 2018 campaign as a tax-friendly Democrat, this month signed off on a 10.5-cent gas tax increase and a 19-cent diesel tax hike. Republican Govs. Kay Ivey of Alabama and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas last month signed increases that were their states’ first in decades, of 10 cents and 3 cents respectively. And the GOP-led General Assembly in Virginia this month voted to add 7 cents a gallon in some parts of the state, which was a win for Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

Fuel tax increases also are under consideration in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where power is divided between the parties.

The state plans pay little heed to President Donald Trump’s latest proposal for $200 billion in federal infrastructure spending. An earlier plan died in Congress and was heavily dependent on state and local funding, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump talked this month about working together on an infrastructure package.

In Michigan, the roads have become a state joke. Contests are held to find the worst pothole. An ice cream made by a Shelby Township company is called the “Michigan Pot Hole.” A 12-year-old Muskegon Heights boy recently attracted attention on local TV and social media for filling the ankle-deep pits on his street with dirt.

Three years ago, the Republican-led Legislature approved a $1.2 billion road plan that raised fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, and was heavily dependent on shifting income tax revenue from an account that covers health care, higher education and other funding areas. But the effect was limited and Whitmer warns that without additional investment, the percentage of state-owned highways that are rated poor will double in five years, to 44%. Local streets are worse.

In recent years, Michigan’s Republican leadership has focused on cutting business taxes and expanding income tax credits.

“This is 40 years of disinvestment in the state of Michigan, and it’s coming due now,” Whitmer said of the roads.

At a recent GOP meeting in Grand Rapids, Republican state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis said many of her colleagues first want to look into redirecting other state spending to roads and to see the 2015 laws fully implemented. A number of Republicans hope to dedicate Michigan’s sales tax on motor fuel to the transportation budget, but they have not detailed how that would be done without slicing funding for schools and municipalities.

“I think there are people who are willing to talk about some sort of small tax, perhaps if we couldn’t find enough money elsewhere,” Afendoulis said.

Whitmer’s plan would cost the average motorist $276 a year. She has proposed offsetting that burden with targeted income tax relief for retirees and low-income workers.

Conservative Arkansas saw no alternative to higher taxes. The measure for adding another 3 cents per gallon for gas and 6 cents for diesel passed the Legislature by an overwhelming margin.

“That shows the level of need and the level of support,” said Arkansas’ governor, Hutchinson. The law also will tap into expected revenue from casinos and imposes an additional registration fee on electric and hybrid vehicles.

Ohio’s DeWine said the states can’t wait for the federal government to solve their road problems, noting that Ohio ships more federal gas tax revenue to Washington than it receives in return.

“Frankly, we should be raising the money ourselves and spending it ourselves,” he said. “It’s much more efficient, gives Ohio more bang for the buck than sending it off to Washington and having them send it back to us.”

 

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Bendix Spicer Bowling Green brake plant receives platinum wellness award

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Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake recently received a Platinum Award from the Worksite Wellness Council of Louisville. Left to right are Andria Keating, BSFB health and wellness coordinator; award presenter Jim Frazier, vice president of medical affairs for Norton Healthcare; and Matt Schwartz, chair of the Worksite Wellness Council of Louisville. (Courtesy: BENDIX SPICER FOUNDATION BRAKE)

ELYRIA, Ohio — Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake (BSFB) has always been committed to helping employees and families improve their health and wellness at work, at home and in retirement.

Through its efforts to continually improve its resources for employee health, the BSFB Manufacturing Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, recently received a Platinum Award from the Worksite Wellness Council of Louisville for exceptional commitment to employee well-being, integration of wellness into the workplace culture, and exemplary leadership in managing employee benefits.

The council’s annual conference, which took place last month, recognizes organizations in Kentucky that strive to create cultures of health through wellness policies and programs. Each employer is assessed according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Worksite Health ScoreCard, which helps organizations review their health promotion programs to find gaps and prioritize the prevention of chronic conditions.

To earn a Platinum Award, the highest distinction, employers must meet stringent requirements, such as demonstrating management support, program variety, and community engagement, and reaching targeted improvement levels. The recognition is often given to previous award recipients honored earlier at the bronze, silver or gold levels.

Thanks to its inventive health efforts, Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake received the top award as a first-time honoree, according to .

Among its contributing efforts, Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake was recognized for partnering with the Kentucky Cancer Program and the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center in an innovative workplace health initiative. The partnership received a grant to cover the cost of qualified employees’ lung health screenings and participation in the Kentucky Cancer Registry. In addition, the grant helped to provide educational posters, classes on screenings, and radon prevention programs.

“We are proud to continue Bendix’s long-standing commitment to the well-being of our employees,” said Andria Keating, health and wellness coordinator at the Bowling Green facility. “The rate of lung cancer in Kentucky is one of the highest in the United States. Through our partnerships with distinguished cancer centers in the state, we hope to give our employees the resources and education they need for early detection and prevention.”

In earning a Platinum Award, the company also scored with distinction on the CDC Worksite Health ScoreCard, based on the success of its well-rounded wellness efforts. Those efforts are driven by the Bendix Be Healthy program, aimed at making healthy living easier and more convenient for employees and their families by emphasizing prevention and early detection of health issues, and support of employees seeking care. Bendix Be Healthy focuses on biometric screenings, preventative screenings, health fairs, tobacco cessation, weight management, lifestyle changes, emotional well-being, and financial wellness.

The vibrant wellness program in place at the Bowling Green facility is part of an active, multifaceted, employee-focused company culture that combines opportunities to learn, grow, and participate in health and wellness, community volunteerism, and employee team-building activities.

 

 

 

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Woman charged with attempted murder after truck-driver fiancé fired

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Natalie Williams, 32, is facing attempted murder charges, police say, after allegedly shooting several times at her fiancé’s former employer and his family at a truck stop parking lot. (Photo courtesy: SLIDELL POLICE DEPARTMENT)

SLIDELL, La. — A 32-year-old woman was charged with attempted murder after a shooting incident at a truck stop on Friday that is believed to have occurred in reaction to the woman’s fiancé being fired from his job as a professional truck driver.

The incident occurred at a TravelCenters of America truck stop just off Interstate 10 in Slidell, about 3 miles northeast of Lake Pontchartrain.

According to local reports, Slidell Police said they received several 911 calls at about 2:30 p.m. about a woman shooting at people in the truck stop parking lot. When they arrived they quickly found Natalie Williams, a resident of nearby Mandeville, hiding in a wooded area near the truck stop.

Police also found a couple that told them Williams had shot at them and their 1-year-old son. According to the police report, the man told them that he owned a trucking company and he had met up with Williams and her fiancé in the rear parking lot at the truck stop, where he had fired Williams’ fiancé for poor job performance and informed them that he was evicting them from the 18-wheeler.

The man told police that Williams then went to the truck, got a gun and started shooting at him, then fired several shots into the cab of the truck he arrived in and in which his fiancé and the child were still seated.

Police said no one was injured in the shooting.

According to St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office records, Williams remains behind bars as of Tuesday, with bail set at $150,000.

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Michigan Democrat wants businesses, trucks to pay more for road repair

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Michigan House Minority Leader Christine Greig says new ideas need to be brought to the table for how to fund road repairs in the state. She and her colleagues have introduced a proposal that would increase corporate taxes and institute a 6-cents-a-mile tax on heavy trucks and a bridge toll on tractor trailers. (AP: David Eggert)

LANSING, Mich. — With state Republicans lawmakers firmly opposed to a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike, Democrats want businesses to do more to help fix the state’s roads.

A new $1.2 billion proposal from House Democrats would raise the state’s corporate tax, create a new 6-cents-a-mile tax for heavy trucks and charge bridge tolls to tractor trailers. It also includes portions of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget plan, such as raising taxes on certain businesses so they are taxed the same as traditional corporations and restoring tax breaks for pensioners.

House Minority Leader Christine Greig said Democrats agree with the Democratic governor’s call for $2.5 billion in new revenue and know that a fuel tax increase would likely be part of any final deal.

“We just felt it was important that we brought other ideas in since we haven’t seen anything other than a shell game and shifting around revenue from the Republicans, but yet they’ve said that they’re not going to support a 45-cent gas increase. So let’s put some new ideas on the table to get us to the $2.5 billion,” she said Friday.

By releasing the plan, Democrats risked looking like they oppose Whitmer’s fuel tax hike, which Republicans, who control the Legislature, have said is going nowhere and which Democrats have not introduced as legislation. Greig said Democrats are “100% supportive” of generating new revenue and their proposal is based on feedback from constituents.

“We just think that if you’re really struggling to a negotiation, that implies that you bring a bunch of different ideas and come up with a compromise,” she said.

Some in the business lobby have said raising gasoline and diesel taxes is simple and fair because everyone pays, including companies that move goods or have employees on the roads. But Greig said what they pay is not “proportionate.”

“To attract business, to attract talent, to keep our communities strong that support businesses, we have to have good roads and bridges,” she said, noting that businesses saw a $1 billion-plus tax cut under a 2011 overhaul enacted by Republicans. “Since that happened, we’ve seen our roads and infrastructure deteriorate. We’ve seen our ranking in schools drop nationally. So something is not right. To put this all on the backs of individuals is shortsighted.”

Increasing the 6% corporate income tax to 8.5% and raising taxes on flow-through entities, Greig said, would lead to businesses paying $800 million more annually — but still less than they were before the 2011 change. Assessing a vehicle-miles-traveled tax on the two heaviest classes of trucks would generate $390 million from those who cause the most road damage, she said, while the bridge tolls — based on a unique program in Rhode Island — would raise about $50 million.

Road-funding and budget negotiations are expected to extend into the summer as legislators scale back their voting days starting this coming week.

Greig urged the business community to “come to the table and say, ‘We will accept contributing more directly to the solution.’”

Republicans and business groups oppose raising business taxes, however, saying lower taxes help the economy. To soften the impact of a 45-cent gas tax increase by easing the tax burden on seniors, Whitmer has proposed boosting taxes on 150,000 corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies whose income is passed through to the entities’ owners and taxed at the personal rate of 4.25 percent. The Senate’s Republican leader has called it “stupid.”

So far, the main component to emerge from Republicans’ road-funding work is a budget plan in the House that would ultimately ensure $850 million in sales tax being collected at the pump goes to roads, without raising taxes. The revenue now primarily is dedicated to schools and municipalities.

Greig said it is “confusing” that a portion of fuel taxes funds other priorities and she has no problem “cleaning up revenue streams.” But new revenue should be generated to replace it, she said.

“They’re not doing that. That’s the problem,” she said. “We’re basically doing it on the backs of local governments and kids, frankly.”

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