Snyder's Infrastructure Plan: Paved with Good Intentions

Oct 28, 2011

Governor Snyder put forth a bold new message on infrastructure a couple days ago. What he said immediately won praise from columnists and editorial pages across the state.

As a matter of fact, the governor’s plan is being enthusiastically supported by nearly everybody who understands how desperate a shape Michigan’s roads and bridges are in.

I looked at the details of the governor’s proposal when it was unveiled, but deliberately decided to refrain from saying anything about it until it was clear what the reaction would be.

And I can sadly report that the legislature shows every sign of fulfilling my expectations that they will fail the citizens whenever possible, and cheerfully sell out our future if that means winning some small advantage for the next campaign.

Part of this, frankly, is the governor’s fault. He is apparently insisting on treating our lawmakers as responsible, principled grownups. People who are able and willing to do the right thing, once it is clear what that is. That’s an admirable sentiment, but fairly inexcusable in light of what just happened to Snyder over the proposed new Detroit River bridge. Michigan business and industry badly needs a new bridge. Building one won’t cost us a cent, because Canada will pay our share. Instead, it would in fact get us billions in free highway money from Washington.

But the governor can’t even get a vote on this bridge, because the monopoly interest opposed to it has bought off so many legislators with campaign donations. Now, he expects the same lawmakers to do the same thing to save our crumbling infrastructure.

The governor told us the truth. Our roads are falling apart. Saving them will cost a lot of money. I admired him for saying that. I liked the gustiness of his proposal that we all pay an extra hundred and twenty dollars for vehicle registration fees.

But I was horrified by what he said next, which is that this was not a formal proposal, and that he welcomed input from the legislature. I wanted to scream, “Congratulations, governor. You have just guaranteed that nothing will happen.”

Indeed, after initially praising the governor’s vision, the senate majority leader said his colleagues “look forward to a continued dialogue with the governor, and “are committed to making fiscally responsible solutions.”

The speaker of the house sent his spokesman out to say, that agreeing on a solution is difficult and we, “need to exhaust those revenues we already have before we ask people to pay more.“

And these are his fellow Republicans. The problem is that the lunatic fringe of the governor’s party thinks all taxes are bad, and are unwilling to pay for the most obvious public good.

In fact, there are deranged bloggers out there raving that the governor’s plan to fix the roads is socialism, whatever that means.

What the governor proposed is vitally necessary, but gentle persuasion seems unlikely to work. Richard Nixon’s infamous aide Chuck Colson used to say that when you had people by the sensitive area of their anatomies, their hearts and minds would follow.

Colson went to prison, but as governor, John Engler knew how to do that in a legal way. If I were Rick Snyder, I’d be talking to him.