Cook: Pass Prop 1, fix Michigan’s roads

Steven Cook

‘Michigan’s road quality is among the worst in the nation,” according to a study done by the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group.

In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration rated Michigan roads 38th among the 50 states.

In the seven years since that federal study, there has been no significant investment in our roads and bridges.

Care to guess where Michigan roads rank in 2015?

We don’t need a new study to answer that question.

I’ve spoken to many friends and neighbors who drove south for spring break, each coming back with the same story: Roads in southern states are in far better condition than Michigan roads.

That anecdotal evidence supports this fact: Michigan spends less per capita on roads than any other state in the nation.

Additional revenue is needed to repair our roads and bridges and on May 5, voters have the opportunity to stand up and vote yes on Proposition 1 to provide that desperately needed revenue.

Proposition 1 provides the funding needed to fix our crumbling roads and bridges by increasing the state sales tax by one cent. For voters (and legislators) who oppose any tax increase for any purpose, that’s a deal breaker.

But for those who take the time to examine the specifics of Prop 1 beyond that one cent sales tax increase, they will find guarantees that justify the sacrifice.

Prop 1 generates over $1 billion to repair Michigan roads. It also provides a constitutional guarantee that every penny in taxes you pay at the pump will be spent on roads.

Road builders would be required to provide guarantees in the form of warranties on the work they do.

If the roads are defective, the road builders — not the taxpayers — will pay for the repairs.

Given the level of trust voters have in government officials, these guarantees provide a measure of confidence that Proposition 1 solves the problem of our broken infrastructure.

Prop 1 contains other benefits that many voters are unaware of. It will provide an additional $300 million in revenue for public education.

Those funds are desperately needed as more Michigan school districts are in deficit than any time in history.

Prop 1 also provides an additional $100 million to local governments that have reduced essential personnel, such as police and firefighters, as a result of state budget cuts.

The Michigan economy will also get a shot in the arm. According to economic impact studies, up to 15,000 new jobs will be created.

Those benefits bring added value to Prop 1. But restoring the safety of our state’s infrastructure is its primary benefit.

Michigan drivers are tired of swerving to avoid potholes to prevent damage to their vehicles. But the damage to our cars pales in comparison to the danger of hitting something, or someone when we swerve around those potholes.

The potholes and our attempts to avoid them are the danger we can easily see.

Harder to see is the danger inherent in our states’ bridges. One out of four bridges in Michigan is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Those bridges are a disaster waiting to happen.

Our state’s infrastructure was once the envy of the nation. Today, it represents a source of shame — and danger.

Lansing politicians could not find the political courage to do the job they were elected to do. Their failure has placed our drivers, our kids and our economy in serious danger.

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.