Snyder pushes Prop 1 by throwing asphalt

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Detroit — Armed with a shovel and protected by a hardhat, Gov. Rick Snyder made a pitch for Proposal 1 Thursday morning while throwing hot asphalt into potholes on Michigan Avenue.

Teamed with seasoned Michigan Department of Transportation road workers, Snyder threw black, gummy asphalt into a seemingly endless number of potholes on Michigan near Trumbull, the iconic corner where Tiger Stadium once stood.

"This historic spot illustrates the problems with our roads," said Snyder, wearing a hard hat sporting an Olde English "D."

"We need to do a better job with our roads all across the state," Snyder said. "We won't have potholes if we build better roads to begin with."

Prop 1 calls for the elimination of the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline/diesel sales and replacing it with a new wholesale fuel tax. The vote on the statewide proposal is May 5.

Michigan is one of only a handful of states that tacks a sales tax onto its state fuel tax. The 6 percent sales tax has never gone to the roads but instead goes to schools and cities.

Proposition 1 would also increase the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent and is expected to raise $1.2 billion in new road funding.

"We're short about $1.2 billion a year," Snyder said. "Everyone talks about how much they like Ohio roads. Well, Ohio spends $1.2 billion a year more on its roads than Michigan. I don't like being behind Ohio in anything."

While Snyder was touting the ballot proposition in Detroit, the Safe Roads Yes campaign in Lansing announced the launch of a new broadcast ad featuring former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Detroit.

In commercials that started running Thursday statewide, Levin argues there's no responsible alternative to Proposal 1 that can fix Michigan's roads without making deep cuts to other essential services. The Democrat urges a yes vote and says a "Plan B" alternative in the state Legislature would involve deep cuts to K-12 schools, law enforcement and higher education.

Safe Roads Yes campaign spokesman Roger Martin said a proposal from Prop 1 opponent Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, would slash K-12 school finding $700 million, and one from Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, would cut services to autistic children, among others; raid the rainy day fund; and require constitutional changes.

"Obviously, none of these amount to reality," Martin said.

But U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, isn't buying the purported benefits of Prop 1. He wants to do away with tax breaks granted to selected businesses through the the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as inducements to bring commerce and jobs to the state.

"MI voters should reject any tax increase proposal that doesn't first eliminate film subsidies and corporate welfare," he tweeted Thursday. "I'm voting no on May 5."

Prop 1 also triggers a series of 10 new laws that would generate $300 million more for public education, $95 million for local government revenue sharing and $260 million for a tax credit for low-income residents with jobs, prompting opponents to call Proposal 1 a giveaway to "special interests."

Opponents have not argued about the condition of Michigan's roads and bridges. They have said more funding could be diverted from existing state funds without a tax hike.

"Most voters, especially Republican party activists, know the state takes more than enough from their pockets in taxes and fees," Proposition 1 opponent and 8th Congressional District Republican Committee Chairman Tom McMillin said Monday. "They want Lansing to do their job and prioritize the money they have already taken from us."

Earlier this week, TRIP — a nonprofit transportation group based in Washington, D.C. — released a report that said Michigan's slow but stead economic recovery could be jeopardized by the poor condition of its roads.

According to TRIP, which is funded by road builders, insurance companies and equipment manufacturers, noted that currently 38 percent of Michigan's roads are in poor condition, up from 23 percent in 2006.

The report also stated that 45 percent of Michigan's roads were in fair condition and 17 percent were in good shape.

According to TRIP, 53 percent of the state's roads would be in poor condition by 2025 if funding needs aren't met.

"The price tag is only to go up if we don't do something now," Snyder said. "But if Proposition 1 passes, you'll see things turn around quickly because we'll have a steady revenue stream."

According to the governor, Michigan has tried to keep up with transportation costs by annually borrowing $100 million to $200 million from the general fund.

Snyder acknowledged there has been signs of doubt from the voting public about the proposal.

"There's always skepticism when you talk about a tax increase," Snyder said. "But when you have time to give answers to questions people come around. I'm going to be going on a mini-bus tour around the state to get the message out. I'm going to be relentless about this."

Michigan Department of Transportation engineer Tim Croze didn't hesitate when asked how Snyder did when it came to throwing asphalt.

"It's hard work and he did well," Croze said.

"He's a natural."

Would he hire him to work at MDOT?

"I hired him when I voted for him as governor," said Croze with a smile.

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