Commentary: Roads vs. bears

Feb 15, 2013

Some people are saying Michigan should have a part-time instead of a full-time legislature. I’ve always been against this. But from time to time, I can sympathize with the notion that maybe our lawmakers should only work part time so they can buckle down to business and get the important things done.

Yesterday provided a perfect example. Our roads are falling apart. Every day we put off fixing them means it will cost that much more in the long run. Every day we put off fixing them is another day that Michigan becomes less competitive.

Last week the governor proposed a reasonable plan to raise the more than a billion dollars a year we need, right now, to fix our current roads and prevent them from getting worse.

Unfortunately, it has one flaw. It would require our lawmakers to ask people to pay more at the pump, and more when they register their cars. Some of them are too cowardly to do that. They fear the voters will turn against them if they ask us to pay a reasonable amount for a service everybody needs. Well, they, and we, all need to grow up.

This week I had a leak in my roof. A man came to the house and said he could fix it on one condition. We had to pay him. And guess what, we did. That’s how the world works. This is not, however, how politicians work.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said the senator wouldn’t support the way his fellow Republican, Governor Rick Snyder, wants us to pay to fix the roads. How would he choose to do it then? Oh, he didn’t have any ideas, but his spokesman said, “he’s still open to talking.” Perhaps Richardville plans to take a helicopter from Monroe to Lansing after the roads fall apart.

Michael McCready, a Republican from Bloomfield Hills, said maybe we should phase in the costs of fixing the roads more slowly. Perhaps he also thinks if he asks nicely, the roads will put off sprouting potholes. To his credit, House Transportation Chair Wayne Schmidt politely told McCready that was a stupid idea.

Then there was Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who felt she had to chime in and say she opposed the governor’s plan to raise car registration fees. How does she think we should get money to fix the roads? She wants us to ask the federal government for it!  Johnson says she is a conservative Republican. Isn’t begging Washington for money what they always accuse liberal Democrats of doing?

Now, there’s nothing wrong with talking about different realistic road funding options. But as the governor said again yesterday, doing nothing is not an option. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on our legislators, though.

The senate did take an important vote yesterday. Know what it was? They voted to allow people to pet bear cubs that weigh less than ninety pounds.  Now, the future of bear petting is up to the house.

If some dictator suggested forcing our lawmakers instead to start personally filling potholes by hand, at this point, I’m not sure I would find that very outrageous.              

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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