Beckmann: Lawmakers gutless on fixing Michigan roads

Frank Beckmann
Special to The Detroit News

Well, that wasn’t so hard was it.

One swift kick in Lansing, and the can was down the road again.

After Thursday’s legislative agreement on how to face the road funding issue in our state, the biggest concern had to be a Capitol water shortage from everyone washing their hands of the issue.

Once again, our elected officials took the safe way out, relying on big money ad campaigns and the voters to come up with a solution that they could have crafted after talking about this problem for more than two years.

Over 24 months of discussions and it took a lame duck legislative session to conclude that voters should decide whether to tax themselves?

How brave! How noble! How spineless!

It never should have come down to a last-minute decision on the last day of this Legislature to come up with this idea of having the voters approve a 17 percent increase in the sales tax on just about everything they buy.

Instead of looking for ways to cut spending — they could have started with the continuing wasteful film subsidies — these legislators decided to play Santa Claus exactly one week before Christmas.

Our gallant men and women in Lansing figured out a way to give a slice of the pie to all the deep pocketed, big spending groups with an interest in the road plan.

Gov. Rick Snyder talked about checking off boxes during his press conference Thursday. In that spirit, let’s check some ourselves.

■$1.2 billion for road construction and repairs — check — which means road builders will join the Michigan Chamber of Commerce in financing an expensive advertising campaign to urge a yes vote on raising the state sales tax in May.

■$100 million for rail and public transportation projects will similarly draw advertising revenue support from those with a stake in the projects — check.

■An additional $300 million for schools gets the backing of the Michigan Education Association because about 85 percent of that money goes into employee payroll — check.

All of these observations are not intended to judge the merits of the spending to fix our roads.

It was going to be difficult to come up with a solution that did not include some sort of tax increase.

But this solution smells of capitulation by the majority Republicans and an abrogation of responsibility by those that we elected to make tough choices in Lansing.

We all know the roads need more attention in our state and we all know that costs money.

But we also know that the manner of repair matters, that Michigan needs to demand a better quality of work from the road builders, whether that comes from a tougher warranty on repairs, a higher standard for technique and substances used for the work, or lower truck weight limits.

All of that went unaddressed by a legislature that had over two years to consider solutions, but frittered away that time until they reached the old 11th hour method of crisis decision making.

So now they’ve played Santa for road builders, for public transportation advocates, for teachers, and for local municipalities while rushing off for their own last-minute Christmas shopping and a long winter’s nap.

Only one group of people was asked to sacrifice for all this and that’s the group that always picks up the tab when the elected officials don’t show the intelligence or fortitude to make tough decisions to manage our money better.

That group is made up of the hard-working taxpayers.

They’ll now have five months to watch their hard earned money handed out by the millions to Hollywood and during that time they’ll get besieged by advertising that tells them this tax increase amounts to pennies — Gov. Snyder used the term, “less than a nickel” in his press conference Thursday just like Jennifer Granholm once talked about “just two pennies” in seeking a tax hike.

Truth is, taxpayers are getting nickeled and dimed to death and they’ll either pay up or be blamed themselves for the bad roads if they vote no in May.

Sure the roads need to be fixed, but it’s the Legislature that should have figured out how to pay for it by cutting the existing budget, not leaning on the taxpayers for even more money.

Merry Christmas.

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.