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Michigan continues to collapse, with no solution planned

Oct 25, 2017

More than a quarter of a million people in Michigan’s richest county have to boil their drinking water this week. If you haven’t heard, that’s because a four-foot wide water transmission line apparently broke in Farmington Hills Monday night.

This has gotten a lot of publicity, far more so, say, than the Flint water crisis in its early stages. If you are a poor person of color in Flint, you might think this is because the people affected now are far more affluent, better connected, and nearly all white.

Click here to listen to Oakland County residents affected by the water main break

I won’t say that’s wrong. We don’t yet know what caused that pipe to break. It was 47 years old and was made to last for a century, but had never been inspected. This happened, by the way, almost ten months to the day after the giant sinkhole collapse in Macomb County that completely destroyed three houses.

I haven’t heard any conspiracy theorists say these two events are linked. But in fact they are, every bit as much as if terrorists had been involved. Don’t like water mains breaking and sewers collapsing? Well, get used to it – it may well happen in your neighborhood soon.

And if you helped elect politicians who refuse to raise enough revenue to maintain our infrastructure, you deserve it. The blunt fact is that our state is wearing out. It is going to cost billions to fix, and our lawmakers need to raise our taxes now.

They won’t do that, of course. Too many are ideological nincompoops who signed a pledge never to raise taxes for any reason, as crazily irresponsible as that seems.

The fact is that we need grownups back in charge.

Tonight, I fully expect people to post comments on Facebook attacking me as a “liberal” and suggesting nothing would be worse than raising taxes by the amount many of them spend buying snacks from vending machines at the office.

The fact is that we need grownups back in charge. I’ve broadcast more than two thousand of these essays over the past dozen years, and in the very first one, I quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a conservative Republican. Ninety years ago, he wrote that “taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” We might differ on what we feel is worth paying for, but my guess is that just about all of us would include drinking water and plumbing that works on the list.

Most of us not in the legislature might also include decent roads and bridges that don’t collapse as well. But we are in trouble in all these areas. If there’s any group less wild and crazy than Supreme Court justices, it is civil engineers. But they understand infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers published a sort of report card called the Michigan Infrastructure Overview. It says that we need to spend $13.8 billion to service our drinking water needs in the state, and another two billion to fix the sewers.

“Delaying these investments is an option the country, Michigan and our families can no longer afford,” the engineers concluded.

This is a wakeup call. By the way, my guess is that every lawmaker who voted against raising taxes thinks we should try to get Amazon to build its new headquarters here. And I’m sure collapsing water and sewer lines must really make them want to come.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior 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.