I think the low point in my faith in democracy came late this winter, soon after I had lost one tire to a pothole. I got home after nearly losing another on the lunar surface of a suburban Detroit mile road, just in time to hear a state senator claiming we needed another tax cut.
Well, I thought, I am now living in a Third World country. But guess what? That senator heard from his constituents, big-time. Before long, he was retreating from his tax-cut talk, legislative tail between his legs. Why?
To quote the leader of his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville R- Monroe, “I’ve heard the message loud and clear that the roads are messed up, and I think the most common phrase I’m hearing from back home is 'just fix the damn roads.'"
Well, what do you know, a Legislature responsive to the desires of its constituents!
I have been critical of Sen. Richardville in the past, but I have to say that he is beginning to sound like a practical statesman.
This winter, I talked to a couple of Republican lawmakers and noted that there is no way to come up with enough money to fix the roads properly out of existing revenues.
One of them absurdly refused to admit that. The other said the only thing he would consider is a ballot initiative that would ask voters to agree to raise the sales tax to fix the roads, something any sane economist will tell you is a pretty lousy idea.
Yesterday, however, Sen. Richardville said a ballot initiative was not the way to go.
He told the Gongwer News Service “you are talking about a two-thirds vote through the Legislature and then something you don’t even know could happen until November. That uncertainty I can’t deal with, so there are few options left.”
What he is hinting at here is breaking the most powerful taboo in politics today. If taking openly about sex was once taboo, there’s a word today that Republicans consider far more obscene: Taxes. The shock waves that resulted two years when a couple of women said the word “vagina” in the Legislature would be nothing in comparison to what the words “need to raise revenues” would do.
Yet they are edging closer and closer to saying just that to save the roads. Not to mention, themselves.
State Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids, is the only current legislator to have ever voted to raise the gas tax. He is now admitting he lived to tell the tale.
“I want people to understand I was not thrown out of office, I was not recalled,” he said, adding, with Churchillian dignity, “It’s not the end of the world if you support our infrastructure.”
Moving his big toe toward the water, Randy Richardville said, “I think if we’re going to take a bite, we should fix the problem altogether and not take a step toward it.”
He knows that means billions. He also knows there’s only one way to get it. Sooner rather than later, his caucus will have to surrender their anti-tax virginities.
And when they do, we will all be much better off.