After abandoning Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s gas tax hike plan to “fix the damn roads,” lawmakers in Lansing are looking to charge Michiganders by the mile to address the state’s dwindling gas tax revenues.

Buried in a $6.8 billion budget for transportation currently under consideration in the Legislature is a $5 million pilot program designed to look at the possibility of replacing Michigan’s 27.2 cents-per-gallon tax on gas and diesel with a mileage-based road user fee.

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The proposal, expected to receive floor votes soon, would create a technical advisory committee tasked with designing a pilot program for the Michigan Department of Transportation to test in 2025, though budget negotiations are ongoing.

Canton Democratic Rep. Ranjeev Puri, chair of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, told Bridge Michigan state officials are also looking into leveraging federal tax dollars to vet the possibility of road use fees, but lawmakers are eyeing the $5 million pilot study to move more quickly.

“The baseline question we are asking ourselves right now is, what is the quickest way to be able to do a pilot in Michigan,” he said. “I think it’s a little too early to design the program and have specifics, but … we would look at the variety of different ways that states around the country have been doing it and just figure out what works best for the state.”

Michigan is one of only six states that charge sales tax on gas, generating about $1.1 billion annually, though the majority of that revenue is not used for roads. The state last increased its gas tax by one cent on Jan. 1, 2022, which boosted revenues by about $347.2 million, according to MLive.

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Michigan collects about $2 billion a year from the state motor fuels tax, while other funding for roads and bridges comes from the federal government. A report released by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association last year put the cost of maintaining the state’s road system at about $9 billion per year.

Michigan’s already insufficient motor fuels tax revenues are predicted to continue to decline in the coming years due to the government-imposed transition to electric vehicles and increasing fuel efficiency.

Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason Foundation’s managing director of transportation policy, recently described the situation with motor fuels taxes in Michigan and other states as “a rockstar on his farewell tour,” forced out by EVs.

Whiter proposed a 45 cents-per-gallon fuel tax hike in 2019 that quickly died in the Legislature.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that we’ve put some numbers in front of voters and they have not been super enthused about pushing the gas tax to that number,” Maggie Pallone, vice president of Public Sector Consultants that studied the issue last year, told MLive.

Oregon, Utah, and many other states are already exploring mileage-based user fees to boost revenues for roads and bridges, an idea that’s strongly supported by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.

“We have to find an equitable source of revenue, a user fee for vehicles traveling on our roads, regardless of what source the energy is,” MITA’s Lance Binoniemi told Bridge. “We do believe this is the future.”

The proposal currently in the Michigan Senate would require a 19-member technical advisory committee to consider the “ease and cost” of tracking mileage and collecting taxes through an optional pilot program.

Similar schemes have drawn concerns about how the state would track drivers to bill them based on road usage, and MDOT was tasked last year with surveying Michiganders on their willingness to comply.

While the results of that survey are not yet clear, the privacy concerns persist, and some are calling for lawmakers to do something else instead.

“Simply put: there’s no way to implement a miles traveled tax on Michigan drivers without a significant growth of government intrusion into our privacy,” Zach Rudat, advocacy director for the Michigan Freedom Fund, told Bridge.

Other critics of the user fee point to voluntary programs in Oregon, Utah and Virginia that have lost more money than they’ve generated.

While lawmakers haggle over how to squeeze more money from taxpayers to “fix the damn roads,” the state’s infrastructure continues to crumble.

A report from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council of 2023 road conditions released last week shows the condition of paved roads eligible for federal aid deteriorated by 5% from 2022 and will continue to do so over the next decade.

“By 2035, it is forecast that only 20% of the roads will be in good condition while roads in fair condition will drop to 28%,” the report read. “Over those 10 years, the roads in poor condition will reach 52%.”

It’s a similar story for the 165,000 lane miles of paved and unpaved Michigan roads that aren’t eligible for federal aid. Currently, 47% of those roads are in poor condition, up 2% from 2022, while 31% are in fair condition and 22% in good condition, according to the report.

Other funding options to boost transportation revenues floated by the MITA and state officials include a 39 cents-per-gallon fuel tax hike, an increase in the sales tax dedicated to roads, and tolling the state’s highways.