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Allan

Group pushes taxes for roads

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Great! Let's all pay taxes to subsidize more sprawl! Will this region ever learn? I may end up buying all my gas and making all my purchases in Wayne County in the future. Fortunately it is only 2 miles away.

Group pushes taxes for roads

Oakland business leaders seek support

November 19, 2004

BY KATHLEEN GRAY

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

A group of Oakland County business leaders is quietly working to build support for increased taxes and vehicle fees to raise money to expand roads to reduce congestion and commute times.

Higher local property, gas and sales taxes are all being suggested, as well as increased vehicle registration and driver's license fees.

While road improvements are essential, government officials said raising taxes in the current economic climate will be a tough sell to tax-weary voters.

The five proposals combined are expected to raise about $155 million a year in Oakland County, enough to cover the $1.5 billion in improvements that the Road Commission of Oakland County says it won't have enough money to pay for over the next 10 years.

"Traffic problems aren't going to get any better and we've determined that the only reasonable thing to do is to explore other funding options," said Jim Page, an executive at Harley Ellis, an architecture and engineering firm in Southfield and a member of the roads group.

"Many of the mile roads in Oakland County are gridlocked," he added. "All of our employees struggle in traffic. Their commute keeps getting longer and longer."

Deputy Oakland County Executive Ken Rogers said the group is right on one thing -- something has to be done about the conditions of roads in the region. "But this isn't the best time in the world to be considering tax increases."

State Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, said a tax-study work group looked at the possibility of a local sales tax.

"And one of the cons of that would be how it would impact Michigan's competitiveness and business climate if community after community could raise their own sales tax," she said.

Federal and state road money comes into Oakland County, but can't be used on local roads, like Southfield Road from I-696 to the Lodge, Dequindre Road in Troy and Grand River in Novi, three of the top congestion priorities for the Road Commission, said the agency's spokesman, Craig Bryson.

The businessmen are members of the Oakland County Business Roundtable, a group created by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

They make suggestions on how the county can do business more effectively and at a lower cost. The roads group is to make a presentation on its proposal at the annual meeting of the roundtable at the Northfield Hilton in Troy on Dec. 2.

The group says it fears that increasingly crowded roads will discourage companies from moving to Oakland County and the region.

It has already made presentations to more than 20 service, charitable and business organizations trying to drum up support for the proposals. Members also plan to talk with Macomb and Wayne county officials in an effort to broaden the scope of the proposal.

They point to recent successes in areas nationwide where communities have asked for tax increases specifically for road improvements.

On election day in California, for example, seven counties passed sales tax extensions or increases for roads.

The group also created a Web site -- www.oaklandbbr.com -- and hopes to hire an executive director in the future to lead any campaign for a road improvement tax. But the prospect for a ballot initiative is at least two years away and a huge challenge, the group acknowledges.

"Realistically, we're not going to get all that we're proposing, but if we can get enough business support and there's a real clamor for this, then the politicians can recognize that it's not quite so risky to get behind it," said Page.

Paul Tait, executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said the state's financial troubles and the anti-tax climate will make the proposal difficult: "But a tax in which you can clearly identify the need and benefits has a much higher success rate of passing."

The group also would have to seek approval from the Michigan Legislature for most of its proposals. The driver's license and vehicle registration fee increases would need enabling legislation. And the sales tax would require a change in the state's constitution.

Contact KATHLEEN GRAY at 248-351-3298 or [email protected]

WHAT'S SUGGESTED

Proposals under consideration by the Businesses for Better Roads and how much each is expected to raise in Oakland County:

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