Moss: No, really, there’s no Plan B on Prop 1

Chuck Moss

If Proposal 1 fails on May 5, is there a Plan B? Right now you have two kinds of people: Those who say they have a Plan B and those who say they don’t.

The folks saying loudly that there’s no Plan B include Gov. Rick Snyder, local governments, the road guys, and the less interesting but more responsible members of the Legislature. What’s probably going on is simple — you don’t lay out Plan B while Plan A’s still on the table. So while they most likely have backup ideas, they’re just not going to tell us yet.

The folks who do claim to have a Plan B? Let’s back up a bit. There’s some basic reality here. We have a problem: A) The roads stink. B) The people want them fixed. C) It’s going to cost about $1.5 billion per year, inflation adjusted, from here on out to fix and maintain the roads. This is reality.

The problem here is that reality is interfering mightily with some exquisite political calculations. Folks who got elected by promising never to raise any taxes are now between the rock of their promises and the very hard place of Reality A, B and C.

Now you got a couple ways to deal with this challenge. 1) You can figure out a solution to the problem that, while imperfect, grasps reality and actually solves the problem. Or 2) You can run for cover and try to wait out the storm. But with the roads crumbling and the bosses—the citizens—getting angrier every day, there are fewer places to hide. So the next best thing is to hide in plain sight, and the best strategy for that is… “energy from beets.”

What’s that? Well, there was a legislator I knew who everyone thought was dotty. We’d be at a point of serious decision, and he would take a deep breath and go on a complete tangent: “Let’s get energy from beets.”

“If we get energy from beets, we won’t need tough choices because we’ll just run everything off beet-power. And we can be the beet energy capital of the world and have millions of jobs.”

Everybody thought the guy was nuts, but he was actually a very clever man, who had just gotten himself neatly off the hook.

Today, his philosophy takes the form of phony Plan Bs: How are you going to get $1.5 billion annually?

Just reprioritize some of the $54 billion state budget. Sure, the proposed state budget is $54 billion, but out of that about $10 billion is all that’s non-restricted. Some revenue is restricted constitutionally, some is restricted federally, some is restricted because the people want the money spent a certain way and don’t want the Legislature to raid or divert it. So when folks wave around $54 billion, they’re slinging baloney.

Take it out of the non-restricted $10 billion. It’s theoretically possible if you do things like shut down the State Police, the secretary of state, judiciary, and the Agriculture Department on which much of Michigan depends.

Redirect money from the Natural Resources Trust Fund. The fund is constitutionally restricted. Lansing can’t touch it. Sure, you could try for a constitutional amendment to raid funds dedicated to buying land for public recreation.

Let’s take the money from the Catastrophic Claims Fund. First off, the claims fund isn’t “ours” to take. It doesn’t belong to the government. It’s an insurance reserve to compensate people with — wait for it — catastrophic injuries under auto no-fault. The insurance companies say it isn’t big enough for that. And did I say that isn’t ours to take?

Now these non-starters sure sound silly, unless you look at them as excellent examples of political decision avoidance. While we’re talking impossible Plan B options, we’re off the hook for tough choices. Instead, it’s “hey, Plan B, baby!”

The problem with the energy from beets philosophy is it’s just a detour from reality.

The key is that the bosses — the citizens — hire public servants to solve problems and make hard choices. We know what the Democrats would do: they’d raise taxes, skim off 30 percent for their own causes, and fix the roads with the rest.

But Republicans say we can do better with GOP ideas and solutions — solutions that work in reality. Okay, GOP: do nothing and get fired next year. Or give us a Republican solution to the road collapse that can’t be beet.

Chuck Moss, a former state legislator, is a board member of the Regional Transit Authority and an Oakland University adjunct instructor.