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Cook: Don’t trust Michigan pols? Vote yes on Prop 1

Steven Cook

The ice has melted and the roads are worse.

Michigan’s deteriorating roads and bridges pose a serious safety threat to drivers. Crater-size potholes are responsible for extensive damage to our automobiles.

On May 5, voters have the opportunity to fix the problem by voting yes on Proposition 1.

As I explained last month, Proposition 1 will increase the state sales tax by one penny, from 6 percent to 7 percent and provide over $1 billion to repair Michigan roads and bridges.

New revenue is needed for two reasons: First, Michigan is still recovering from a deep recession that severely reduced state revenue. Second, policymakers in Lansing have made corporate tax cuts the No. 1 priority in the state budget. Those corporate tax cuts have eaten away at revenue to the point of cutting basic services to the bone. Proposition 1 not only provides the needed funding to repair our roads and bridges, it provides critical funding for some of the basic services that we rely on every day.

The necessity of passing Proposition 1 is based on one simple fact: We cannot cut our way out of this problem. There are no areas of the state budget that will produce enough revenue to fix our roads. It’s that simple.

While the vast majority of new revenue generated by Proposition 1 will fund the needed repairs on our roads and bridges, it will also provide desperately needed funding to schools and local communities, while also restoring a tax break to low-income workers.

Just as our roads have been neglected in the state budget in recent years, so too have our schools and municipalities. Today, over 50 Michigan school districts are in deficit and facing financial emergencies — by far the highest number in history. Local governments were forced to lay off police and firefighters as a result of funding cuts in revenue sharing. The near elimination of a tax break targeted to low-income workers is one cause of the increase in Michigan childhood poverty — also at an all-time high. The months of negotiations that resulted in Proposition 1 were actually worth the wait. It produced a ballot proposal that targets new revenue to places it is most needed: roads, schools, local communities and low-wage workers.

The Legislature is asking voters to make this public policy decision. Our preference is for the Legislature and the governor to make policy decisions for our state. That is the job they were elected to do. But they did not. Why? Because politics got in the way. Some legislators are opposed to any revenue increase for any purpose. Others are determined to cut education funding to pay for road repairs, which was the plan on the table when the compromise was reached to put Prop 1 on the ballot. Unfortunately, a group of legislators recently unveiled their plan to fund road repairs if Prop 1 fails. That plan also cuts funding to our schools to repair our roads, which will create a huge “pothole” in every school district and every classroom across the state. A solution to a problem is not a solution if it creates another problem.

Prop 1 is not perfect. But it targets new revenue to areas most in need and guarantees all state sales taxes paid on fuel will be spent on roads. To those who intend to vote no because they don’t trust the politicians, you have it backward: If you don’t trust Lansing politicians, then make the decision yourself and vote yes. Do not throw the problem back to the Legislature to continue to play politics with the safety of Michigan drivers and the financial well-being our schools, our local communities and our children.

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.