There are nearly 540,000 thousand drivers in Michigan who are over the age of 75, according to a the secretary of state's records. A new bill introduced in the state Senate would make public parking free for them.
If the bill becomes law, those drivers would have to provide proof of age to receive a state-issued sticker. That sticker would allow them to park for free at any municipal parking meter, lot or structure.
The bill was introduced this month and has been referred to a committee for a hearing.
One of the co-sponsors is Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., D-East Lansing. He joined Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou on Morning Edition.
DT: State Senator Coleman Young II introduced this legislation and you and Senator Ian Conyers co-sponsored it. What prompted this idea? What problem are you trying to solve?
Curtis Hertel, Jr.: Well, I think what prompted the idea is that seniors, we feel have been under attack, not only in the state, but by this administration on a national level. So, if we can provide some small benefit to them, I think we should try. You’re talking to people that are on a fixed income. They’re now paying more on car registration fees. They’re now paying more in their gas taxes or soon will be. You look at programs that help seniors in my district like Meals on Wheels. We have a federal government that’s actually looking at cutting those things. These are people that worked hard, built Michigan, were a large part of why Michigan was at one point very successful. Now in their older age, they’re not being thought about.
DT: Let's talk about some of the practical logistics. A parking meter seems simple enough. You have a sticker on your window and the parking enforcement staff can see that sticker and realize you don't get a ticket. But what about pulling up to a municipal lot or parking structure where you're taking one of those magnetic-strip tickets and inserting it, inserting your credit card and sometimes there's not somebody working there? How would you see that playing out for a senior trying to take advantage of this?
CH: Well, usually most of those have a button where you can actually talk to a person. So, I think that there are certainly options there, but I think that we’d have to maybe come up with some creative solutions. And I also want to highlight the bill in our caucus that would exempt senior citizens from vehicle registration fees. We’re trying to find ways to make it easier. We’ve really shown a lack of respect to our older generation, I think, with this legislature and I think we need to fix that.
DT: The proposal reminds me a bit of the handicapped parking system that's so common around the country. And I'm wondering how this would apply to people who no longer drive, but are getting a lot of rides. Say I'm driving my mother around who’s 77 years old. Would there be a way for me to get a placard in my car for when I'm drving her?
CH: Well, you have to be a licensed driver and it has to be your car. So, it’s a sticker that would go on a car. It’s not something that’s supposed to be moved around a lot. I’m sure that there are people that take advantage of the system we have now, but I think that most people will use it in the right way.
DT: Another financial aspect of the bill is how it affects towns and cities that count on revenues from parking and tickets for parking violations. Do you have a sense of how this would this affect those communities financially?
CH: You know, there hasn’t been a senate fiscal analysis of the bill yet. I think there will be. I think if we want to worry about municipal financing though on the state level, we should make sure we’re funding revenue sharing correctly. Another place where the state is failing is providing the support to cities to actually pay for the services they need. Cities shouldn’t have to keep raising the fees on people, which they have had to do because the state hasn’t met its obligations. We shouldn’t be balancing the budget on the backs of senior citizens who are on a fixed income.
DT: You mentioned earlier that this is, by your own account, a relatively small measure and you’re trying to highlight issues for seniors. Do you have concerns that this may take away from efforts, or take away from opportunities to enact other legislation that might help not just people who can afford to drive, but people who can’t afford to even have a car who are older than, say, 75?
CT: You know, I’m not concerned about that. What I’m concerned about is a state that seems to disrespect people and give a bunch of tax breaks to corporations. You know, we’ve had, for example, bills that allow for a student loan tax credit to help people pay back their student loans. A childcare tax credit to pay for the exorbitant amount it costs to raise a child in this state. I would say that I’m not worried about it because in all honesty I see no interest in this legislature of solving these problems. So maybe we can solve a small one.