I have to wonder sometimes how our elected leaders in the Legislature sleep. They spend vast amounts of money getting elected to jobs, the whole purpose of which is to serve the citizens. Then they don’t do that –selling out to special interests, or pandering shamelessly to voters – so they can cling to power for another couple years.

If they were in Congress, I still wouldn’t approve, though it would be easier to understand. Congressmen, after all, can stay in office until they are legally dead, accumulating power and seniority. But if you are a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, you can serve six years maximum, for life. State senators can serve a maximum of eight years.

Now – if you are going to be gone anyway soon, why not do the right thing while you are there? Sadly, that isn’t the way most legislators seem to think. I’ll give you one huge example:

Forget anything morally controversial, like abortion insurance or wolf hunting. Forget anything where there is a legitimate public policy debate, like what to do about failing schools. Instead, let’s talk about the most obvious example: Our roads.

WFIU Public Radio / Creative Commons

Voters in Grand Rapids could get a chance to vote on an income tax extension this year. The city wants to extend a temporary income tax hike to maintain roads and sidewalks.

Grand Rapids voters approved the temporary income tax hike in 2010. It’s paid for a number of projects that will lower the overall cost of running city government. That increase will expire in 2015.

Michigan's Capitol.
Graham Davis / flickr

It’s Thursday, the day we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

The legislature has wrapped up session for the year. And, after the holidays we’re entering an election year. Let's find out, besides the gubernatorial election, what other major elections should we be watching next year, and what might the legislature accomplish in 2014?

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss the state of child well-being in Michigan, and look ahead to Governor Rick Snyder's energy plan he'll announce Thursday. They also take a look at legislation likely to be taken up in early 2014.

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Roads will be a priority in 2014, lawmakers say

"State legislative leaders say boosting funding for roads will top their priority list in 2014. Governor Rick Snyder has been urging lawmakers to increase road and infrastructure spending by more than a billion dollars," Jake Neher reports.

Teams start counting vacant buildings to help fight blight in Detroit

"A large-scale effort to count Detroit’s blighted and vacant buildings starts in earnest today. Seventy five teams of surveyors will assess and map more than 350,000 parcels of land across the city," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Manufacturing announcement expected in Flint

"Top officials with General Motors, the UAW and Michigan government will be in Flint today for what’s being called a “significant manufacturing” announcement. GM spokesmen are not saying what the announcement at the Flint Assembly Plant will be," Steve Carmody reports.

Earlier this week I had a meeting in Ann Arbor and then went to Detroit. When I swung off the freeway onto a surface street I hit a pothole I couldn’t see so hard I was convinced I’d lose a tire.

I was lucky. Everything seems fine. But I drive a lot, and have lost two tires in similar episodes in recent years.

We need to fix our roads. Figuring out how to do so is the responsibility of our lawmakers. But they won’t do it. Which means  we are all going to pay more and more to fix damage to our cars. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Delaying Medicaid expansion in Michigan is having another side-effect besides forcing low-income adults to wait three months longer for health insurance under the federal health overhaul.

It also means there could be $73 million less for deteriorating roads at a time lawmakers are funneling more money there in part to avoid raising gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There’s a new idea floating around the state Capitol about how to boost funding for roads. Supporters call the plan “pot for potholes.”

Lawmakers like state Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) would like to see the state legalize and tax marijuana and use that money to pay for road repairs.

“You can tax the heck out of marijuana,” Callton says, “put it into a separate fund for Michigan roads - because it doesn’t seem like that money is going to come from anywhere else at this point in time - and it’s a cute name, ‘pot for potholes.’”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan has at least 28 bridges that are classified as needing close observation and future upgrades.

The Associated Press analyzed data on bridges nationwide. At least 28 in Michigan are considered "structurally deficient" and "fracture critical," key terms bridge inspectors use.

Officials say that doesn't mean the bridges are unsafe for travel. If so, they'd be closed.

This week in review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the Medicaid expansion and Kerry Bentivolio's primary challenger.

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Governor Snyder says some Medicaid funding could go toward roads

"Governor Rick Snyder says extending Medicaid to thousands of working poor people will save Michigan taxpayers money. He wants to use part of the money to pay for the program in future years when the federal government’s share declines slightly. But he says there should be more than enough to also use some of the money for other things – such as roads and transportation," Rick Pluta reports.

Housing project once home to Diana Ross and Joe Louis torn down in Detroit

"Portions of Detroit’s historic Brewster-Douglass housing projects met the wrecking ball Wednesday. The massive complex where Diana Ross and Joe Louis grew up had become a magnet for blight and crime," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Rockfors residents urged to boil water to avoid E. coli

"Tests have revealed E. coli in the water system that serves Rockford, a city north of Grand Rapids. Health officials advised residents to use bottled water Wednesday or boil tap water before using it for drinking, brushing teeth or preparing food," the Associated Press reports.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says extending Medicaid to more working poor people will save the state a lot of money – maybe $130 million next year. That begs the question of what to do with the budget windfall.

   The Snyder administration says the Medicaid expansion to 320,000 working poor people will help reduce uncompensated hospital care and other things that drive up the cost of health care. But the state should also see direct savings by shifting costs like prisoner mental health services to the Medicaid program.

Wikimedia Commons

Each week we take a look at Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, columnist for

Governor Snyder has been calling for increased funding for Michigan roads to the tune of $1.2 billion a year. This is one of the items he has not gotten a lot of traction on so far from lawmakers on either side of the political aisle.

According to Sikkema, the last time Michigan increased fees and a tax for transportation funding was back in 1997.

"The reason we keep going back to this sales tax issue is because Michigan is relatively unique. It has a sales tax on top of its state and federal gas tax and that sales tax doesn't go to roads it goes to schools and revenue sharing. There are only about three or four states in the country where all the taxes at the pump don't go to roads. Michigan is one of them," he said.

Are better roads, better for business?

More than 12% of Michigan bridges have been deemed "structurally unsafe"  by the group Transportation for America.

Michigan has about 11,000 bridges. The group says 1,354 of those could be dangerous.

So, if more than 1 out of 10 bridges in Michigan is  "unsafe," how bad are they really?

Gary Chancey / Creative Commons

4x4s and other off-road vehicles could be allowed on many more Michigan roads, under a bill that’s headed to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

Currently, ORVs can drive on the shoulders in the Upper Peninsula and eight counties in the Lower Peninsula.

John Chad is director of Happi-Trails ATV Club in Grayling. He says the changes would be great for local riders and increase tourism.

If you had the idea that our elected representatives in the legislature were mature, rational adults, yesterday might have cured you of the idea.  As many of us know, the state’s roads are falling apart.

Yesterday, the Transportation Asset Management Council said that less than 1/5 of Michigan Roads eligible for federal highway funding are in good shape. A third are in poor condition. The rest are in fair condition, sliding towards poor.

Roads, by the way, don’t heal themselves, especially when heavy trucks keep driving on them. Local roads, which are not eligible for federal assistance, are in far worse shape, with slightly over half in poor condition.

Even the expressways aren’t great. Sixty percent are in fair condition, 16 percent poor. Those roads, however, are most likely to be improved. The rest of the system is what we need to worry about, unless you never plan on going anywhere, or you drive a military surplus tank.

There was a lot of criticism of President Obama for devoting so much time to his health care plan during his first year and a half in office. Some felt he should have also tried to get through a massive job creation plan, or a program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. However, he did succeed at getting what we now call “Obamacare” passed, and it is now transforming medical coverage.

Potholes are a familiar obstacle on Michigan roads.
Flickr user Michael Gil /

Governor Snyder says he wants more than a billion dollars just this year to pay for road and bridge repairs.

Our state has seriously bad roads that lawmakers in Lansing appear to agree on.

How to pay for road repairs is a whole other story.

We’ve talked a lot on Stateside about the different options to raise the money for these repairs.

Many Republicans appear unwilling to vote for any increase in taxes.  Amidst facing a possible primary challenge, would Republicans consider voting for any possible legislation?

There have also been concerns that this funding increase would mean local governments and schools would lose upwards of $850 million in funding.

For months, Governor Snyder has been trying to get support from lawmakers, but we haven’t seen a whole lot of progress on how to increase funding.

Recently, a state House committee has begun hearings on a road funding strategy.

Chris Gautz is the capitol correspondent for Crain's Detroit Business. He sat down with us on Stateside to give us the details of the new proposal and how exactly it would work.

Listen to the full interview above.

cncphotos / flickr

This week in Michigan politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss funding proposals to fix Michigan’s roads, the number of lottery winners on welfare, and how a human rights ordinance is moving forward in Royal Oak.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The conservative group that pushed for Michigan to become a Right-to-Work state wants Governor Snyder to drop his call for higher taxes to pay for repairing Michigan’s roads.

The governor wants the Legislature to approve higher gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise more than a billion dollars to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.

Scott Hagerstrom is the state director of Americans for Prosperity. He says Michigan shouldn’t be raising taxes.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The drive to fix Michigan's roads is centered on winning support from lawmakers for at least $1.2 billion a year in additional taxes and fees.

But hardly any attention is being paid to how that cash should be divvied up.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants the bulk of new revenue to go to a new fund that would pass along additional dollars to road agencies. Yet few specifics about how the money would be distributed have been released since his budget was unveiled two months ago.

Road in need of repair.
Peter Ito / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is pushing lawmakers to act soon to adopt a plan to raise more than a billion dollars in new revenue for roads and transportation projects.

He wants a revenue package ready in time to for projects to begin in the coming spring and summer construction season.

A deal does not seem to be near, but lawmakers are discussing different ideas.

The governor says that’s promising.

"Obviously, there are pros and cons to any approach. There are no perfect answers, but there are good answers that should be possible out of this," said Snyder.

The governor says he’s pleased there seems to be general agreement that roads need to be fixed - even if there’s no agreement yet on how to pay for it.

One proposal would raise the sales tax by a one cent.

That would have to approved  by voters.

That idea would have to clear the Legislature this week to appear on the ballot in May.

Pretty much everyone knows that our roads are in terrible shape, and need to be repaired.

However, at the same time, pretty much everyone also doesn’t want to pay to fix them.

We think somebody else should pay.

So far, Governor Rick Snyder has been the closest thing to a grownup on this issue. He reasons that those who use the roads, people otherwise known as drivers, should pay most of the cost.

That cost is pretty steep: Just to bring our existing roads back to acceptable condition will require $1.2 billion a year for at least the next ten years.

The governor proposes increasing the gas tax by nineteen cents a gallon on diesel fuel, fourteen cents on gasoline. This would be done at the wholesale level, which means the fuel companies wouldn’t necessarily have to pass them on to the consumer.

Okay, well, you’re allowed to laugh.

Snyder would also raise car registration fees by about 60 percent, and heavy truck plate charges by 25 percent.

Well, that plan seemed to bring people together: Everybody hated it.

Potholes are a familiar obstacle on Michigan roads.
Flickr user Michael Gil /

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Talk of putting part of a road funding plan on Michigan's May ballot is petering out.

The Republican leader of the state Senate says Tuesday the odds of putting a sales tax increase on the ballot by Thursday's deadline are below 10 percent.

Randy Richardville says lawmakers are pitching more ideas to fund road repairs, and some think discussions have been moving too quickly. Gov. Rick Snyder has called for increased gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees for road upkeep.

One idea is to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees, but also dump a sales tax on gas that doesn't fund transportation. To make up the lost revenue for schools and other spending, some Republicans want to ask voters to raise the 6 percent sales tax.

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Governor Snyder to make an announcement on Detroit's financial emergency

"Governor Rick Snyder is expected to announce today that he agrees with a review team’s determination that Detroit is in a financial crisis with no plan to solve it. That would set the stage for the governor to name an emergency manager to run the city later in March. There’s no official word on what the governor plans to do, but he has said the condition of Detroit’s finances is unacceptable," Rick Pluta reports.

Health care exchange and Blue Cross Blue Shield bills move forward

Michigan is moving forward on the Affordable Care Act. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"In a 78-31 vote, 29 Republicans joined with 49 Democrats [Thursday] to accept $30.6 million in federal money to set up a Web-based health care exchange where Michigan residents can easily go and investigate, and ultimately buy, the health insurance mandated under the act. The House also overwhelmingly passed a pair of bills that transforms Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan from a tax-exempt nonprofit into a nonprofit mutual insurer."

Lawmakers consider ballot proposal to raise sales tax to fund Michigan roads

Lawmakers have come up with a new idea to fix Michigan's roads. As the Detroit News reports,

"Republican lawmakers could take the first step next week toward financing Gov. Rick Snyder's $1.2 billion road improvements by trying to place a 1-cent sales tax increase on the May ballot."

It’s supposed to snow tonight. I have a late meeting in downtown Detroit, and that worries me. Not because I am going to be in Detroit at night, or because I may be driving in snow. It’s because I may not be able to see the potholes going home. Years ago, I lost a wheel to one on the Lodge Freeway at midnight, and one experience like that was enough.

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a plan to fix Michigan‘s disgracefully deteriorating roads, a plan that makes as close to sense as anything politicians ever propose.

Our roads will need a lot of investment over a long time -- at least $1.2 billion a year. The governor is proposing the fair and rational idea that the cost of fixing the roads should be paid for by the people who use them. He would raise the wholesale gas tax by 14 cents a gallon, a little more on diesel, and also raise car registration fees.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Michigan in for snow, sleet and rain today

"Snow, sleet and freezing rain are expected across the region today as part of a strong winter storm bearing down on the nation's midsection. It's expected to fall this afternoon and evening, and into tomorrow. More than 6 inches could fall in some places, including southeast Michigan. West Michigan could get 2 to 6 inches," the Associated Press reports.

Lawmakers talk roads funding

"State business leaders say Michigan lawmakers need to boost funding for roads now. The group says the cost of fixing roads only gets higher as time passes and roads get worse. The group says lawmakers should raise the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees to boost road funding," Jake Neher reports.

Mike Duggan to announce run for Detroit mayor

The former Detroit Medical Center CEO, Mike Duggan is announcing his run for Detroit mayor today. As the Detroit News reports,

"In an interview Monday, [Duggan] said his candidacy will be defined by the critical need for a strategy to fight violent crime and the case to limit (if not prevent) the tenure of an emergency manager in a long overdue turnaround of the city."

Some people are saying Michigan should have a part-time instead of a full-time legislature. I’ve always been against this. But from time to time, I can sympathize with the notion that maybe our lawmakers should only work part time so they can buckle down to business and get the important things done.

Yesterday provided a perfect example. Our roads are falling apart. Every day we put off fixing them means it will cost that much more in the long run. Every day we put off fixing them is another day that Michigan becomes less competitive.

The house I live in is 84 years old. Two winters ago, an ancient sewer pipe broke under our basement. This meant a mess and fairly expensive work. Was that convenient? No. Could we have spent that money in ways that would have been a lot more fun? Absolutely. But building and using an outhouse in the middle of a Michigan winter didn’t seem an appealing alternative.

Which brings us to the governor’s transportation budget. He wants to increase the gas tax by 14 cents a gallon and increase car and light truck annual registration fees by 60 percent, which sounds pretty steep. They say that will cost, on an average, $120 a year per car. It will cost me more, since I drive 30,000 miles a year. Money is tight for a lot of us.

Ingham County

U.S. 23 was shut down in both directions just south of Flint after a multi-vehicle accident was caused by a snow squall. At least 20 vehicles were involved. The Detroit News reports traffic is back up and running on northbound 23 :

A dispatcher at the Flint post of the Michigan State Police said traffic was moving again on northbound U.S. 23 as of 2 p.m., and that southbound would be reopened as soon as several cars were towed from the roadway.

Crews from the Genesee County Road Commission were also called in to erect barricades to move traffic away from the area.

And WOOD-TV reports that weather conditions caused a shut down on I-94 westbound near Paw Paw, Michigan just before 2 p.m. when two semi-trucks collided.

The National Weather Service reports that snow is expected to continue to fall across much of the state into tomorrow.

As a strong cold front moves offshore over the Atlantic, the cold air behind it will help produce lake effect snow across the Great Lakes region on Thursday and Friday. As much as 5-10 inches of lake effect snow is possible through Thursday night, with additional accumulation expected on Friday. In addition, temperatures 20-40 degrees below normal are forecast for the Upper Midwest.