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Governor Snyder: No backup plan to fix the roads

Mar 10, 2015

Politicians never like to admit that life will go on if one of their programs is rejected. Many years ago I remember seeing Richard Nixon asked what he would do if by some chance he wasn’t elected president.

“I have no contingency plans,” Nixon barked.

So it is natural to be skeptical when Governor Rick Snyder says, as he did yesterday on Michigan Radio, that there is no other way to fix the roads, if the ballot proposal doesn’t pass. Snyder is not a very eloquent speaker, and politicians seldom like to be direct.

But he was more direct yesterday than usual. What he said on the air was,

“I always like to have backup plans. This was one of the cases where, because of the legislative process, there isn’t a good Plan B. That’s why it’s critically important to pass this.”

Unfortunately, the governor is exactly right.

The May 5th ballot proposal is not the ideal way to fix the roads. It represents an evasion of responsibility and a dereliction of duty by the legislature and one lawmaker in particular, former Speaker of the House Jase Bolger.

Bolger refused to allow the lawmakers to raise revenue in a responsible fashion to fix the roads. Instead, they passed the buck to the voters. If we want better roads, the only way to do it is to raise the sales tax by one percent. 

But this is indeed, better than nothing.

Yes, you will pay $300 more on that new thirty thousand dollar car you will be buying. But that’s less than the cost of two flat tires or a broken axle. 

Proposal One has also been faulted because it is not a “clean” proposal, by which I mean it isn’t just about the roads.

Some of the new money will go to local government and schools and mass transit.

Some will go to fully restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor.  Because of that, this proposal has been compared to a Christmas tree.

Normally it is not a good idea to junk up any proposal with other unrelated things. However these are all things worth doing.

Possibly the worst thing the Snyder administration has done was to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit, an idea Ronald Reagan called

“the best anti-poverty, the best job-creation measure,” there was.

This is probably our only shot at restoring it.

And it’s really our only chance to fix the roads. There are those who say they are going to vote against this to force the legislature to fix the roads in the right way.

Well, that would be nice, but that’s not realistic. It’s not only that this legislature is even less apt and less willing to do the right thing than the last one, which is certainly true.

It is that even if this wasn’t the case, politically it would be just about impossible for any lawmakers to enact a tax increase for the roads once the voters have turned one down.

Politics and government are the art of the possible. This is the only way we can get better roads in the foreseeable future, and voters need to make this choice with open eyes.

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