Thursday, November 5, 2015

Michigan Roads

It's pretty safe to assume that every Michigander you meet will have at least one thing in common: they're sick and tired of hearing about road repair. We've been hearing for years that there's not enough funding to do all the maintenance required for the roads in our state. Various groups put the cost between $1.2 and $2 billion per year, with the cost going up every year that the funding doesn't materialize.
Perfect condition! Not.
Yesterday, our state legislature finally passed a road funding plan, and the governor is expected to sign it. The fact that it has taken years might seem like a surprise, given that both the House and Senate have had solid Republican majorities ever since the 2010 elections. Republican Rick Snyder has been governor for that whole time, too. Having a majority doesn't mean much, though, when a good portion of your party refuses to face the fact that the money won't just appear from thin air. Any kind of new or increased taxes or fees cause a lot of Michigan legislators to hide under their desks.

The legislature did finally do something by passing the buck to voters, in the form of Proposal 1 put on the ballot early in 2015. It failed miserably, and while I obviously can't speak for everyone who voted against it, I'm pretty sure that's because it wasn't just about the roads. The ballot measure contained all kinds of additional measures that generated revenue for schools, cities, mass transit and the state's general fund. It even had some tax breaks included. While any or all of those might have been good things, they made for such a complex package that a lot of people didn't even try to understand it - they just voted no.

Now we do finally have a plan, even if it's a pretty poor one. The cost to the taxpayer is about $20 more per vehicle registration, and another 7.3 cents per gallon on the gas tax. There's also a large cut to the general fund, which provides education and public safety funding. And the road funding generated doesn't reach the $1.2 billion level until 2021. There are smaller increases each year until then, which means not all the necessary repairs will get done. By the time we get to 2021, that continued deterioration will mean we'll need even more money. And just in case you thought the plan couldn't be any less realistic, it also includes an income tax cut starting in eight years. As I heard Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry say: "To say this was a case of putting lipstick on a pig would be an insult to both lipstick and pigs."
Be paying a bit more here soon.
Having said that, I'm still glad that at least something was done. The worst thing that could have happened was a continued lack of action. This plan is horrible, but it's better than one thing: no plan at all.

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