Opinion
12:41 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Cowardly politicians hope you think they are fixing our roads

There was a lot of rejoicing yesterday over a new plan to fix Michigan’s roads.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, is proposing coming up with $400 million a year in new money.

House Republicans say they can do that without raising taxes. Gov. Snyder, off in Europe on a trade mission, sent word that he thinks this is “a great first step” toward better roads.

Even a spokesperson for the Democrats indicated they thought “some of the elements of the plan make sense and are a good start.”

Well, excuse me, but they are wrong. Almost all wrong.

This plan is largely political, election-year eyewash meant to give cowardly politicians some cover.

In fact, one of my worries is that this will give people the dangerous illusion that this is taking care of the problem when it really isn’t.

Here’s why I am saying this.

Speaker Bolger’s plan would generate about $450 million for the roads next year, partly by taking some sales tax revenue that now goes to the General Fund. The rest of that money would come from a complex system that would, among other things, change but not increase the way gasoline is taxed, switching the tariff from retail to a wholesale level.

The plan does have one positive feature: It would increase the fees for overweight and oversized vehicles. That is long overdue, since those are the ones most guilty of pounding our roads into gravel.

But here’s what’s wrong with the speaker’s plan.

First, it doesn’t generate nearly enough revenue to do the job. Gov. Snyder said two years ago that we need $1.2 billion in new revenue every year for the next 10 years to restore and maintain our roads.

Lawmakers did nothing.

This proposal doesn't even provide one fourth of that. Basically it would merely slightly slow the deterioration.

When you don’t fix infrastructure problems, they get worse. The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association says the money now needed for the necessary improvements to our roads is $2 billion a year. This proposal doesn’t even provide one fourth of that. Basically it would merely slightly slow the deterioration.

The roads would still be getting worse.

And, here is the one question nobody seems to be asking: Some of this money – I can’t tell how much – would come out of the General Fund.

What would that mean? Assuming four minus two is still two, something is going to have to be cut to pay for fixing the roads.

Will that be early childhood education? Revenue sharing for our cash-strapped cities? They aren’t telling us.

"We're now in a situation where our state is widely regarded as having the worst roads in the country." – Rick Studley, Michigan Chamber of Commerce

I don’t often agree with Rick Studley, who runs the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, but on this issue, he is right on.

Yesterday he said, “We’re now in a situation where our state is widely regarded as having the worst roads in the country. We don’t need a petition drive or ballot proposal. We don’t need another study or report. The time to act is now.”

Really act, even if it means telling citizens they will have to pay for what we all need. Leaders are elected to lead.

Sometimes, that means asking us to do things that are hard.

And the time for that is now.