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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2010

An offer Michigan needs

IT MAY be hard to believe, especially for anyone who has driven on the Wolverine State's battered roads. But the Michigan Legislature seems likely to pass up $475 million in federal highway money that the state desperately needs and is there for the taking.

All the state has to do to get the money is come up with $84 million in matching funds by Sept. 30. Even in these difficult times, that should be a no-brainer.

A bipartisan bill before the state House would do that relatively painlessly, by boosting the state gasoline tax by four cents a gallon and the diesel tax by six cents. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

Yet, astoundingly, legislative leaders won't permit those bills to move out of committee. This is an election year, and some politicians fear anything that looks like raising taxes. State Rep. Wayne Schmidt, a Republican, said he opposes increasing fuel taxes because "we just can't place any more burden on the citizens of Michigan."

That may sound nice, but it is ridiculous and irresponsible. Michigan's roads are fast falling apart, and most motorists might be apt to find an axle-destroying pothole a bigger inconvenience than paying a little more for gas.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, put it starkly: Without the federal funds, he says, "We aren't going to have funding for road and bridge repairs, much less for snow removal and salt."

Michigan's gas tax has stayed the same for more than a decade. The per-gallon tax on diesel fuel was last raised in 1984.

State Rep. Richard Ball, a conservative Republican who supports the gas-tax hike, sensibly notes that "the people who don't want taxes of any kind … need to face reality. The roads and bridges are deteriorating every year from traffic and the freeze-and-thaw cycles, and the state needs funding to repair them."

Failing to snag almost half a billion dollars in federal highway funds would be close to a crime. Michigan voters need to let their elected leaders know that in no uncertain terms, before it's too late.

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