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How Not to Fix the Roads

Oct 22, 2015

 The good news is that the Michigan House of Representatives passed a package of road funding bills Wednesday night. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news.

The truth about this plan was best stated by Business Leaders for Michigan, whose members are not exactly left-wing socialists.

“We believe this is unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible,”

their statement said.

That’s primarily because the plan would cut $600 million out of the cash-strapped general fund, without specifying where those cuts would come from.

Everyone knows, however, that this would hurt the neediest Michiganders, and damage the state’s ability to compete and prepare its citizens.

Moments after the House passed these bills, I heard from Tom Watkins, the CEO of the Detroit-Wayne Mental Health Authority.

“Watch the pea under the shell,”

he told me.

“Where is the $600 million in undisclosed cuts coming from? Schools? Persons with disabilities?”

Watkins knows both are bound to be affected. He is a Democrat, but most members of the Business Leaders for Michigan are not. They noted that the state’s general fund hasn’t grown in real terms in two decades.

They said, “Redirecting $600 million to roads means fewer dollars would be available to make college more affordable, train Michigan workers and (spur) job creation.”

In fact this plan, which was rammed through with virtually no Democratic support, is even worse than it first seems. The minimum needed to fix the roads is $1.2 billion a year, a figure the Michigan Department of Transportation says isn’t nearly enough. This bozo of the plan wouldn’t generate even that much until 2021.

What it would do right away, however, is give rich people a tax cut they don’t need and which the state can’t afford.

Voters this spring overwhelmingly rejected Proposal One, the constitutional amendment that would have raised the sales tax to fix the roads. Everyone said a major part of the reason they turned it down was because the plan was like a Christmas tree, with all sorts of non-road related stuff in it to try and win votes.

Well, the bill passed last night was the same, except worse. State Representative Jim Townsend of Royal Oak may have put it best.

He told the Detroit Free Press,

“The income tax rollback, apparently the price necessary to push this dreadful package through, is the ugly conclusion to what term limits have brought us.”

He said it would be “a fiscal time bomb and I don’t think anyone is aware of how explosive this is likely to be.”

The good news, if there is any, is that this plan in its present form is not going to fly in the senate. Indeed, there is some indication that this was meant as an in-you-face from Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter to Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof.

The senate isn’t going to pass this plan. But they might use it as the framework for something almost as bad. What’s worrisome is that Governor Rick Snyder has not said he would veto the House bill.

Not long ago, he indicated cutting this much out of the general fund was way too much. But it’s been a bad few weeks for Snyder, and he really needs some sort of win.

Let’s hope that doesn’t come at the expense of our future.

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.