For years now, we’ve heard it said that Rick Snyder isn’t really a politician. Well, that’s nonsense. He’s been a supremely skilled one, especially in selling the people on voting for him. Four years ago, he came out of nowhere to easily win the Republican nomination for governor, then won election in a landslide. This year, despite some very unpopular decisions, he won again.
He’s never lost an election. But the jury is still out on whether he’s an effective leader when it comes to governing.
Well, we are about to find out. The key issue is, as it has been, the roads. We spend less per capita on roads than any state in the union, and as a result, we have almost the worst roads in the nation. Given that we are the automobile state, and that we depend on transportation for our jobs and future, this is nuts.
Snyder understands this, as do the state’s business leaders. For years he’s been trying to get lawmakers to come up with desperately needed money to fix the roads. A generation ago, this would have been a no-brainer.
Road funding would have been passed quickly, with probably more Republican than Democratic votes. But the Republicans who control the Legislature these days are not especially pro-business. They are irrational, anti-tax fanatics.
They now have been making up nonsense to justify not doing the right thing. The latest is an asinine claim that they can’t possibly appropriate the money needed because we don’t have the contractors available to do the work.
Lame-duck State Representative Pete Lund, the same guy who has been trying to rig the state’s electoral votes, said this over the weekend.
What’s worse, incoming House Speaker Kevin Cotter told The Detroit News, “I wouldn’t want to flip a switch and inject $1.2 billion into that system,” claiming this would “drive inefficiency.’
Well, the newspaper found this was all nonsense, that there are more than enough contractors. And actually, we don’t need $1.2 billion a year in new revenue; we need more like $2.2 billion, according to MDOT, the state department of transportation, just to get the roads we have in reasonable shape.
The governor is asking for $1.4 billion.
Yesterday, he and Transportation Director Kirk Steudle put hard hats on and toured a crumbling section of Detroit’s Lodge Freeway, which I happen to drive every day.
Snyder candidly told reporters, “The money I’m talking about is to get us to fair-to-good roads. They’re not even going to be great roads, folks.
MDOT’s Steudle said that if significant new money doesn’t happen soon, "We’re going over the cliff and this cost is going to be exponentially worse.”
There’s no doubt that is right. Drivers now pay more in average vehicle repair costs than even the highest road tax would cost. But there is still no sign of rationality in the state House of Representatives, and next year’s Legislature seems certain to be even worse.
So the governor has just days to show if he can lead his fellow lawmakers to solve the state’s most pressing problem. To paraphrase what they used to say in the '60s, the whole state is watching.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. 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.