Opinion: Don't blame Michigan's broken roads on fair wages
A good sign that someone doesn’t have a solution for a problem is when they start misdirecting blame for the problem’s existence, often resorting to scare tactics and scapegoating. As the saying goes, when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointed back at you. Unfortunately, the House Republicans' road budget does exactly that. It blames the inability to fix our roads on the wages of the workers that build them, when in reality, the state just hasn’t invested the resources.
Buried in the budget proposal passed by House Republicans is some clever — and greedy — language slipped in, largely at the request of a special interest group, Associated Builders and Contractors.
The supposed reasoning for this plan is to control costs of future infrastructure projects. In actuality, it would disqualify contractors that are responsible for 80% of construction on state roads and bridges from bidding on state contracts. Specifically, it would prohibit the state from awarding any contract to a road building firm that requires subcontractors to comply with fringe benefit contributions mandated under collective bargaining agreements.
Take a guess at who wouldn’t be disqualified under this proposal: Associated Builders and Contractors. The fact that an organization can turn to the Legislature for a helping hand in eliminating 80% of their business competition is despicable. Companies who produce quality work do not have to resort to underhanded methods to earn business.
ABC simply cannot compete with the overwhelming majority of contractors that, in addition to being experts in infrastructure projects, train and hire experienced workers who can get the job done safely and correctly. Instead of trying to compete under the same standards as everyone else, ABC would rather rig the system so that they’re the only remaining organization eligible to bid on state contracts, assuring them maximum profits.
We have crumbling infrastructure because for 20 years, we have not made the critical investments that other states have. When comparing Michigan to neighboring states, other states don’t have magic materials or “cheaper workers.” They simply invest more money into their system. The implication that Michigan’s roads are in disrepair because we want them built by highly skilled workers paid a fair wage is completely absurd.
While it might be tempting to manufacture blame, politicians need to look in the mirror and admit that years of underfunding and a lack of political courage is the real reason Michigan is failing. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is the first Michigan leader in two decades to put a real plan for fixing our roads on the table. It might be a hard pill for some to swallow, but it certainly is better medicine than political games. Blaming fair wages and scapegoating our workers is not a real solution for Michigan.
State Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, serves Michigan's 23rd District.