What about fixing Michigan roads?

Jun 5, 2014

OK, let’s say I asked you two months ago which of these things our conservative Republican lawmakers would be most likely to do:

1.  Approve using state money to help beef up Detroit’s pension finds and vote to raise the minimum wage by almost $2 an hour over the next few years.

2. Or, agree to fix our totally awful roads.

My guess is you would have thought fixing the roads most likely, and boosting the minimum wage an impossible pipe dream. Well, guess what, raising the minimum wage was the first thing they did, followed by helping Detroit.

But they still won’t fix our horrible roads, even though that’s what voters want. What’s worse is that our bizarre Legislature seems to be drifting further away from dealing with the problem.

Democrats, by the way, control nothing. Their main role is to break ties between the different factions of Republicans.

Here’s what’s happening: Two Republicans are showing principled leadership.

First of all, Gov. Rick Snyder, who for years has called on lawmakers to do the right thing and come up with the money needed to fix our roads. Two years ago, he said that would cost at least $1.2 billion a year in new revenue for the next 10 years. Lawmakers did nothing. But after last winter, voters are up in arms. They want the roads, fixed, period, and they have a new champion: Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville of Monroe. He hasn’t always been a leader here.

For two years, he contemptuously ignored the governor’s call to raise the money to fix the roads. But now, serving his last few months in office, he gets it. He wants to gradually raise gasoline taxes by a quarter a gallon, which would eventually raise about a $1.5 billion a year for the roads.

Even that might not be enough, since the roads have continued to deteriorate. But it makes sense. That is, to everyone except lawmakers too blinded by anti-tax ideology, or too cowardly to raise taxes for the one thing voters are willing to pay them for.

Republicans in the state House have shown none of Richardville’s foresight and courage. Instead, they passed a bill raising a measly $450 million, not even enough to slow the decline. Now, things are unraveling in the Senate too.

Macomb County’s Jack Brandenburg initially wanted a tax cut instead of fixing the roads. Now, he wants to do the job only by putting a sales tax increase on the ballot. That would punish the poor, hurt the economy, and even if successful, wouldn’t raise a dime this year, meaning we’d lose another whole construction season.

Nor is Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer being helpful. Yesterday, she complained “people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale can’t afford this massive tax on gas.” Does she think they can more easily afford broken axles? Yes, senator, I’d like a progressive state income tax too, and a pony, and have Dick DeVos pay to fix the roads.

But politics is the art of the possible. If lawmakers don’t deal with this essential issue, I could see a statewide movement in favor of voting every one of them out.

Which right now doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me.