Lawmakers leave roads a wreck, and put other funding at risk
After years of delay, neglect and political posturing, the Legislature and governor recently trumpeted their success in passing a plan that will fix Michigan roads. Unfortunately, they did no such thing.
By choosing half-measures and politically expedient timing, they put our state — and potentially our public schools — at risk.
For the past decade, the deterioration of Michigan’s roads and bridges, which began as a nuisance, has now become a danger to public safety. The roadblock to repairing our infrastructure and restoring our roads to a safe condition has been politics. Raising new revenue was too big a political hurdle for Lansing politicians to overcome, even in the face of strong public support for increasing taxes to ensure the safety of Michigan motorists.
Well, they finally found a way to overcome their political fear: raise taxes ... after the next election.
In 2017, both the gas tax and vehicle registration fee will increase. The plan calls for this revenue to be saved for two years and in 2019, the first $150 million will be drawn to begin fixing Michigan roads. So, a little more than three years from now, this plan will begin to pay for road repair — and in that first year, few motorists will notice any improvement, as the amount spent is approximately 5 percent of what is needed to get the job done.
The fact is, this is a terrible plan — one that does not begin to address the problem — enacted by those who lack the political courage to stand up and do the right thing. An immediate increase in the gas tax dedicated to road repair would have addressed the danger our roads pose now, not in three years. It also would have jump-started our economy by creating thousands of good paying construction jobs, as well as spin off jobs in other sectors.
While this plan fails to fix our roads, it has the potential to harm Michigan public schools. In 2023, when fully phased in, the plan will cost the state’s general fund $800 million. No one in the Legislature has explained where this additional $800 million will be found, but it will have to be cut from somewhere. If history is any indication, Michigan students and families have much to fear when this bill comes due.
Shortly after Gov. Rick Snyder was elected and Republicans took total control of state government, they handed corporate special interests a $2 billion tax cut. They funded that cut on the backs of working families, schools and senior citizens by eliminating child care tax credits, cutting $1 billion out of public education and taxing pensions. Today, senior citizens and working families continue to suffer and more than 40 school districts are in deficit as a direct result of that corporate tax cut.
In recent years, the legislature has dealt with budget shortfalls by cutting public safety, local government funding, schools, colleges and universities and other services that Michigan residents depend on. Further cuts to fund road repairs could be catastrophic.
Those of us in public education have seen public school funding short-changed by shell games many times over the years. In the 1970s, we were told millions of dollars would be added to public schools from the lottery, only to see funding from the general fund cut and simply replaced by lottery revenue. A few years ago when the community college and university budgets needed more money, it was taken out of the K-12 education budget.
This new road plan with far too few revenue sources looks to be simply another shell game designed to give politicians political cover, while passing on the difficult decisions to future policy makers.
Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.