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Michigan's rocky horror road show continues

Apr 4, 2016

Late Saturday afternoon I was in Lansing, driving to an awards ceremony at the state Library of Michigan, when I started hitting a whole bunch of potholes near the Capitol.

“Don’t the legislators drive on these roads?” my sweetheart asked. My flip answer was that I didn’t think most of them went to the library very often.


But sure enough, when I got home, I found a bubble the size of an egg in my driver’s-side tire. That’s the second time that’s happened to me this year. I drive more than most people do, but somehow I’d bet that I am far from alone.

Now, you may be under the impression that the Legislature finally passed bills to fix the roads last year. Unfortunately, that would be wrong. They did raise our taxes by $600 million dollars, but any serious new money for the roads won’t start trickling in before next January.

The plan eventually is supposed to produce $1.2 billion a year in new money for the roads, but it will take years to get there, and by that time, that amount will be hopelessly inadequate to fix our daily worsening highways.

Even worse, the plan also calls for $600 million to be taken out of the already strapped general fund every year, meaning there is bound to be less money for things like education.

Democrats are certainly capable of crass and politically self-serving things. But what Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich said last November is absolutely true: “This plan won’t fix our roads. It will however, create new problems that will need to be fixed later.”

But let’s say for a moment that I could turn the clock back exactly two years to April 4, 2014, and some candidate could make voters believe this: "Elect me, and two years from today I will have in place a plan that will completely fix the roads, and you will be paying $2.29 cents a gallon for gas."

That candidate would have been elected in a landslide.

Why? Because two years ago today, we were paying $3.67 a gallon. I filled up my trusty station wagon yesterday for $2.09, and there were some cheaper places.

Tack on 20 cents to the price of a gallon of gas – and that would generate more than enough to fix the roads. Wouldn’t it make sense for the Legislature to pass a law doing that, effective immediately, and repeal the earlier clunky legislation?

Of course it would. But there is no way they’d do it, because they live in terror of being accused of raising taxes, especially in an election year. The average driver is paying far more in the cost of wear and tear on his or her car than even a far larger tax increase would mean.

But the combination of gerrymandering, the tyranny of Tea Party fanatics over the GOP, and the effect of term limits have all worked against common sense and good government.

Our system is clearly broken, and this is only one example. There’s a reason that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are doing so well – they are the candidates most loudly proclaiming that government in this country no longer works.

You can see the proof in our tires.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's senior news 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.