Commentary
10:53 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Fixing the roads

To say that Governor Rick Snyder isn’t popular these days with Democrats,  liberals and even some independent voters would probably be an understatement. Many were upset by his decisions to cut education spending in order to drastically lower business taxes. Others weren’t happy that the state is now taxing pensions.

And there was widespread unhappiness when Snyder signed a bill that prevents state and local governments from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees. Polls indicate that some who voted for him fourteen months ago wouldn’t do so today.

Yet we are about to face a situation where, for the first time, Snyder is likely going to need Democratic support to get something though the legislature. And in this case, regardless of how anyone might feel about the rest of the governor’s program, he deserves strong support for the good of the state.

We’re talking transportation issues here.

Specifically, Michigan’s roads and bridges, many of which are in poor shape and which will soon be much worse. For years, the state has spent less on maintaining them than it needed to. Officially, MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation, says eighty-nine percent of our roads are in good or fair shape. To those who drive as much as I do, that seems a bit overoptimistic.

But unless we drastically increase spending, MDOT says that eight years from now only forty-four percent of our roads will be in good shape. We’ll be driving on gravel, into potholes, and under bridges that are dropping pieces of concrete onto the roads.

The governor knows this, and says we need to invest $1.4 billion dollars a year in fixing our roads and bridges. Every transportation expert who has looked at the problem agrees. If we don’t do this, and don’t start now, two things are certain to happen.

First, our ability to attract new jobs and businesses to Michigan will be severely damaged. And second, when we are forced to eventually fix the roads, it will cost us much more. The other day, the governor said his training as an accountant was spurring him to push for increased road funding now. It will save money in the long run.

This should be a no-brainer. But fixing the roads will cost money, and while some Republicans understand we have no choice, others, incredibly, don‘t. Last week some legislators were actually saying that they didn’t see any need for new revenue. This is an election year, and some House Republicans are worried that if they support this sensible plan, they may face primary election challenges from fanatical Tea Party supporters who oppose any tax increases for any reason.

Somehow, people have gotten the crazy idea that they shouldn’t have to pay for any public good. Well, we do have a choice:

We can either pay higher gas taxes and higher car registration fees, or pay when our axles are broken when we hit a bad spot on a freeway late at night. This actually happened to me once, by the way.

At night and in Detroit. Paying sixty bucks extra a year to renew my license plates is a far better deal.

Unless you are a pothole connoisseur, you might want to make sure the road repair package has your state legislators’ full support.