Road Funding Finds New Target With Horse-Drawn Vehicles

Amish community, tourism are targets of $50 per carriage registration fee

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Add horse-drawn buggies to the list of vehicles targeted for increased fees in Michigan.

House Bill 4965, which was introduced by State Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, would allow counties to charge a $50 registration fee for horse-drawn vehicles. The bill says the money can only be used for road repairs.

But $50 won't cover actual road repairs and at least one advocate for the horse drawn vehicles in the state says the bill targets the Amish and tourism in Michigan.

"I don't see where it accomplishes anything," said Cady Ness-Smith, vice president of the Michigan Horse Drawn Vehicle Association.

It is estimated that it costs between $70,000 and $100,000 to pave one mile of road.

Rep. Johnson emphasized that the bill would allow voters to decide if they want to apply the registraiton fee.

"The amount could be no more than $50 per year and it would have to be approved by a vote of the people of the county," he said. "Other states are charging similarly. The people of my district have been complaining for a long time about the wear and tear of buggy and  wagon wheels and steel horse shoes on our roads. Most recently, a lot of our roads have been fog sealed. Some of them have been beat up badly in a short time by this type of traffic, which appears to be much more damaging than car tires. This is not about causing trouble for anyone but about putting all road users on more of an equal footing."

Ness-Smith, however, questioned the motivation for such a bill. She said she’s heard the Michigan Economic Development Corp. say some of its most effective out-of-state advertising involves the horse buggies on Mackinac Island.

In addition to the tourist attraction of horse buggies on Mackinac Island, she said the vehicles also draw positive attention in Detroit where they are used for special events such as weddings.

Largely, the bill would target the Amish community across Michigan, which at times uses public roads with their buggies. The Amish America website says Michigan has the sixth-largest Amish population in the nation at 11,000.

Ness-Smith, who owns 18 horse carriages, said she likely would not pay the fee if it was implemented in her county because she said she rarely drives them on public roads. 

Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year said the state needed more than $1 billion in additional spending to improve roads and infrastructure across the state. He proposed increasing auto registration fees and raising fuel taxes to achieve much of that.

(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting. Rep. Johnson responded after the story was published. His comments have been since been added to the story.)

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