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Snyder may not have fixed Michigan’s roads, but he has a plan; Schauer hasn't

Oct 16, 2014

Almost two years ago, I spoke to a group called CRAM, the County Road Association of Michigan. These are the folks who maintain Michigan’s streets and highways, both urban and rural.

I found these folks mainly had frustrating professional lives, trying to do too much with too few resources and being blamed for problems they weren’t being given enough money to fix.

Yesterday, however, some pundits may have been startled when their political action group, RUSH-PAC, announced it was endorsing Gov. Rick Snyder for re-election. That may surprise some because though the governor did announce a plan to raise revenue for the roads, he’s failed to get it through the Legislature.

Second, RUSH-PAC doesn’t normally endorse anybody in governor’s races – not even when John Engler ran against Geoffrey Fieger. Nobody can remember the last time they backed a candidate.

But I wasn’t the least surprised by this. RUSH, by the way, stands for Rural and Urban Streets and Highways. The one thing all those roads have in common is that they are in bad shape and getting worse. Two years ago, Snyder proposed a plan to raise $1.2 billion in new revenue a year for the roads. He would have raised the gas tax and also increased the amount we pay in car and truck registration fees. You could quibble with his exact formula.

[Mark Schauer] knows he’d have to raise taxes to fix them, but is afraid of alienating any voters by saying exactly how.

I thought he needed to raise the fees far more on the huge tractor-trailers that do the most to tear up our roads, for example.

But it was a plan, the numbers added up, and it would have produced enough money to get the job done.  It's not, sadly, enough anymore. The amount our roads now need to get them back up to par is more than $2 billion a year, highway experts tell me.

The Legislature did nothing. It is perfectly legitimate to criticize the governor’s leadership skills, though in this era of Tea Parties and term limits, persuading Republicans to raise taxes is something like herding feral cats to march in a parade.

You might think this would be a golden opportunity for Mark Schauer, the Democratic nominee. Except he has booted it, big-time.

Schauer hasn’t presented any rational plan to fix the roads.

This summer, he told me he intended to come up with much of the money by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in state government, which is sort of like saying you plan to buy a new car with the loose change you dig out of the sofa cushions.

He also said he’d ask the federal government for the money. Schauer might be better off asking Santa Claus. He’s also hinted at getting the businesses who got the big tax cuts to pay for the roads.

None of these ideas is realistic in the least. Mark Schauer must know that. He knows he’d have to raise taxes to fix them, but is afraid of alienating any voters by saying exactly how.

That’s not leadership. Yesterday, Denise Donahue of RUSH-PAC said that while Snyder may not have gotten the job done, “he has demonstrated leadership on this issue for the last two years.”

Schauer hasn’t. If the governor is indeed reelected 19 days from now, this may be a big part of the reason why.

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Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.