The condition of our roads in Michigan, the new taxes and fees raised to improve our roads has been a big discussion in Michigan for years now.

Many times my listeners call or email me to ask; where does the money we pay in fuel taxes, fees and other general taxes allocated to improve our roads end up.

Well the Michigan Capitol Confidential, the news arm of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy just published a piece explaining the allocation of those tax dollars.

In that article they inform us that Michigan roads are funded through Public Act 51 of 1951 (PA 51), which governs how money gets allocated between state, county and local road agencies.   This bill was passed in 1951, hence the name and at the time it was the culmination of discussions and then ultimately a compromise between rural and urban lawmakers.   By the was the Citizens Research Council of Michigan has called PA 51the “third rail” of highway funding, meaning it is too hot to touch or you as a politician might just get burned.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan was quoted in the article stating:

The antiquated and inefficient formula used for sharing road funds with state and local road agencies guarantees that much of this funding will not go to those roads experiencing the most traffic or those in the worst condition

PA 51 has never been revisited or changed in 67 years. According to the article under the existing law:

  • 39% of the money available for Michigan roads each year goes to the state Department of Transportation,
  • 39% goes to county road commissions
  • and 22% goes to cities and villages.

You need to know that any money not spent by the state is divided among Michigan’s 83 counties and 533 cities and villages.

The biggest concern about PA 51 according to the Citizens Research Council is that Michigan’s current system of divvying up the tax dollars doesn’t take into consideration which roads need repairs the most.  Craig Thiel, the council’s research director, said in an email:

Given the current PA 51 funding distribution system, it is nearly impossible to address the funding needs of heavily traveled roads or roads in greater need of repair without significantly increasing the allocation of revenues to those roads with less traffic or that have relatively lesser needs…Under this system, an increase in funding, regardless if it is one-time or ongoing in nature, will result in the same percentage increase for each road agency. This is inefficient.

it sounds like it is time to review PA 51 and start allocating our tax dollars more efficiently.