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How not to fix the roads

May 14, 2015

If there’s one thing that defines us as a people, it may be how much we love fantasy. That’s why men in their fifties comb over that bald spot and go to singles bars, and why others still imagine they will someday see the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl.

And still more deluded people expect rational, adult behavior out of the Michigan legislature. And no, I’m not even talking about the senator awaiting trial for felonious assault. During the campaign for the ballot proposal to fix the roads, there was a lot of perfectly proper anger over the lawmakers’ cowardly failure to have addressed the problem.

That made sense. What didn’t was the fantasy that once we voted this down, that the legislature would automatically do the right thing.

Well, yesterday we got what I expected. Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter unveiled his “plan” to fix the roads, and it is the worst and stupidest yet.

According to Cotter, it would generate a billion dollars a year to fix our roads, which is only about half of what is needed. But in fact, this is almost all fantasy money.

Cotter, like too many of his colleagues, is opposed to raising any taxes, even though this state is facing a huge infrastructure emergency. So where would he get that money? Well, the bulk of it would come from – are you ready for this – projected future growth in tax revenue. Yes, he is counting on automatic economic growth with no future slowdowns, prosperity that will send billions cascading into state coffers.

I don’t know why he just didn’t propose hauling that blueberry pie out of the sky and selling it. Suffice it to say that the staunchly Republican Detroit News called this an unreal fantasy. Cotter would dedicate a little real money to the roads by doing things that would hurt people and the economy.

He would get some money by finally killing the last of the film subsidy program, take money we promised the Chippewa Indian Tribe, and continue the time-honored practice of raiding the tobacco settlement money, which was supposed to be used for health-oriented programs, something lawmakers have historically ignored.

And, in a particularly cruel twist, Cotter would wipe out the last of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has done so much to help the working poor.

The EITC had already been cut so that Governor Snyder could give business a huge tax cut during his first term. Proposal One would have fully restored it. Now, they want to completely kill it. This isn’t a plan to fix the roads; it is an outrage.

Now, we need to hope to see some sanity from the state senate, and hope it is catching. There were a few who thought that as unsatisfactory as Proposal One was, it was the best we were likely to do. So far, it looks as if they may have been right.

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.