Archive for September, 2014

Fix the Roads

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The elder Mayor Daley’s political credo was that as long as you picked up the garbage, plowed the snow, and fixed the roads, Chicago voters wouldn’t care what other political shenanigans went on. He was a practical politician in a city that famously “worked”.

The same can’t be said for the current state of Michigan. Even though Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the Governor’s mansion; they can’t seem to come up a plan to fund road reconstruction.

This is not a new problem.

The whole country went into recession in 2001 but the Michigan economy didn’t start growing again until 2009. Road funding suffered during that period of time as did funding for many public services.

Then there is the general trend of more efficient vehicles. That means the state is effectively getting less money in fuel taxes per mile driven on the roads. Michigan is not, however, the only state with that problem.

Last year’s severe winter, however, elevated Michigan’s problem to a crisis.

Experts say that many of the deteriorating roads in the state have now passed the point where they can be effectively repaired. Instead they must be completely rebuilt.

The estimated additional cost to simply keep the current situation from getting worse is somewhere around $1B.

The cost to bring the roads back to a national standard is twice that.

Part of the problem in Michigan is that we have some of the lowest tolls and fines for overweight vehicles in our part of the country. We charge overweight vehicles a $50 flat fee while all of the surrounding states charge fees based on weight, mileage, and even bridges crossed. This situation is part of the “friendly” auto manufacturing climate that has grown up in this state over decades.

Paradoxically, Michigan also has the sixth highest gas taxes in country.

But it ranks last in per capita road spending.

That’s because, at least in Michigan, the sales tax on gas goes into the general fund rather than the road fund.

While this makes funding more challenging, the basic realities remain. The state has to spend significantly more money on the roads than it has been spending. Fortunately the citizens in Michigan recognize this and overwhelmingly support increased taxes to fix the roads.

The solution is obvious. You’ve got to raise taxes on somebody to generate another $1B – $2B in revenue. So why isn’t it getting done?

In simplest terms – Ideology

The republican legislative majorities occurred during the Tea Party wave election of 2010.

They are now faced with the reality that there is no practical way to fund the roads without raising taxes. They already cut funding to schools and eliminated senior citizen state tax breaks to fund a billion dollar business tax reduction – knowing that they still had this issue to deal with.

The governor, to his credit, put a tax hike proposal on the table.

So did the Republican Senate Majority leader, who happens to be term limited and as a result can’t run for election again.

They all received the support of the Democrats, but all failed to get sufficient Republican votes to pass.

It is now so bad, that the Senate Majority Leader has admitted that he is out of ideas.

“We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

So faced with a real crisis regarding Michigan roads and the prospect of another brutal winter that will damage even more roads beyond the point of repair, Tea Party Republicans refuse to vote for any plan that raises taxes or fees on anybody.

I can’t think of any clearer example of the folly of the ideology that has overtaken the Republican Party. There are consequences to a philosophy that believes no tax can be justified and economic growth will offset any loss of revenue. It is impossible for economic growth to generate sufficient additional tax revenue to solve this problem. The deteriorating roads are impacting economic growth today preventing the promised stimulation from low business taxes.

As Mayor Daley understood, voters expect government to provide a set of basic services. Voters are also wise enough to realize that they have to pay for these services.

Hopefully voters will recognize that this party is unable to govern because of their “no tax” philosophy and vote them out.