Calabrese: This is why we can’t have nice roads

Dan Calabrese
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The problem is not that it costs money to maintain Michigan’s roads. It costs money to maintain every state’s roads. The problem is that once other constituencies are used to getting money, you can never re-direct it to fix the roads without said constituencies shrieking. And if there’s one thing no politician ever wants, it’s someone shrieking at them.

For those of us who have argued that re-prioritizing the existing budget should be the first step toward finding the money for the roads, the response we always get is that this is politically impossible. That’s not the same as it being mathematically impossible. Which is to say, it could be done. Jarrett Skorup and James Hohman recently wrote a thoughtful piece for The News that demonstrates one possible approach. You can argue the merits of some of their ideas, but what you can’t deny is that rethinking the budget to make roads a real priority is within the realm of mathematical reality.

Maintaining roads is one function of government that even libertarians — except for the really loopy ones — don’t argue should be the job of the private sector.

Hotels can market themselves. Companies can create their own jobs. Even education could be (and often is) handled by the private sector.

But only government can maintain the roads. And yet private-sector interests have their hands so firmly on the money that could be going to maintain the roads that they throw an absolute fit if lawmakers try to redirect it to a real, undisputed function of state government. They insist that it’s rational and responsible to raise the gas tax or any number of other taxes to get the road money. But take it from them? Heaven forbid!

This is why we can’t have nice roads.

The money is there if anyone would simply make a decision to prioritize it and allocate it. But that would require someone else to have to make an adjustment, or to give up something to which they have become accustomed. And apparently potholes are not as bad as that.

The problem in Michigan is not just our government. It’s also the people who have grown so comfortable sponging off it.

Dan Calabrese writes for The Politics Blog.

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