Use of Road Funds by State Police May Violate Michigan Constitution

November 2003

Michigan is having a hard time keeping potholes out of its highways, but the state is shifting road funds to the State Police and other state agencies.

It was announced at a November 18 meeting of the State Transportation Commission that the Michigan Department of Transportation might not make the goal it set in 1997 to return 90 per cent of state highways to “good” condition by 2007. More money may be needed, in the form of bond sales, federal aid, or an increase in the state Diesel-fuel tax.

Michigan motorists are already paying higher taxes, but two of the fee increases enacted this year aren’t going for road repairs, as the state Constitution requires. Most license-plate fees were raised by $3.00, but $2.25 of that is being spent by the Michigan State Police. Vehicle owners who are late in renewing their plates are being surprised by $10 late fees, and these fees are credited to the state general fund.

This funds shift is unconstitutional, says the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based motorists’ rights organization with a chapter in Michigan.

The Michigan Constitution restricts vehicle taxes to road construction and public transit. The only exceptions allowed are for the cost of collecting the taxes (through fuel taxes and license plates), and for the $100/truck regulatory fee paid by Michigan truckers.

At $2.25 from each of Michigan’s 8.3 million vehicles, Michigan drivers and truckers will be contributing over $18.5 million a year to the State Police, instead of $17 million to state and local road repair and about $1.5million to transit service. It’s still unknown how many drivers will fall victim to the $10 fee for not renewing plates by their birthday.

“We’re afraid that if the state is allowed to keep the $2.25, in a future budget they’ll pay the entire State Police road-patrol program from road funds,” said Eric Skrum, spokesman for the motorists association. “This law should be amended, or overturned. We feel confident that if a city or a county road commission challenges the diversions, the road money would be restored.” The license-plate increase isn’t the only new fee flowing to the police. This year, the state increased its surtax on traffic citations from $25 to $40 to pay for road policing and courts, and began taxing driver’s-license points at $100 for the seventh point and $50 each for points above seven. The State Police will soon hold a “troopers’ school” for new recruits, while state agencies are furloughing employees. The NMA finds this troubling: “Now that the state derives millions of dollars from traffic fines, it may see police agencies as a revenue source, instead of a tool for traffic safety. The police may be expected to become self-supporting from traffic fines, a clear conflict of interest that will lead to abuse of authority and unethical enforcement practices.”