Editorial: Gov. Snyder answers Prop 1 gripes

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder stopped by The Detroit News offices last week with a chunk of concrete and a list of answers to the objections raised to Proposal 1, the May 5 ballot measure to raise roads revenue.

The concrete fell off an overpass in Detroit, and emphasizes the governor's sales pitch that Michigan's roads are not only rough, but dangerous as well.

The answers are in recognition that reminding voters of the despicable conditions of Michigan's highways isn't enough to get Prop 1 passed. Voters know the roads are bad; they must be convinced that this ballot proposal is the best way to fix them.

That's the challenge supporters of the initiative must overcome. Snyder has heard the complaints about Prop 1, and has decided that broadening the message is the best strategy. So now, instead of just hearing that Michigan's potholes may kill, voters are also hearing an admission that Prop 1 isn't perfect, but that given the political state in Michigan, it's the only solution available.

Here's how Snyder is responding to complaints about Prop 1's flaws:

■Instead of doing its job, the Legislature took the easy way out and punted the issue to the voters. Snyder is quick to say this isn't the proposal he wanted during lame duck negotiations last fall. He preferred a straight hike in the fuel tax. But the political support wasn't there. Rather than walk away from raising more road revenue, this compromise was crafted, and got the support of two-thirds of the Legislature — not an easy feat. "Doing something is better than nothing at all," Snyder says.

■The proposal is too complex. Snyder agrees, but says that's out of necessity. One of the goals was to make sure all taxes paid at the pump went to fix roads. Michigan currently levies its 6 cent sales tax on fuel sales, and much of that money goes to schools and local communities. Prop 1 removes the sales tax. But lawmakers felt they had to replace the education and revenue sharing funds. So roughly one-third of the money raised by hiking the sales tax to 7 cents a gallon will go to schools and other places.

■New road money won't be used the right way. Snyder has heard the gripes that Michigan roads deteriorate too quickly after being repaired, and that heavy trucks destroy the pavement. So Prop 1 will demand strict warranties for all projects over $1 million, and competitive bidding for contracts above $100,000. Heavy trucks will pay $50 million more in registration fees.

■There's too much pork in the proposal. The governor, who was unfairly lambasted in his reelection campaign for cutting education spending, was not about to short schools by not restoring the revenue from the sales tax. Most of the non-road revenue raised by the sales tax hike will go to restoring cuts made earlier in his administration, when the state economy was struggling. Those include the Earned Income Tax Credit and revenue sharing dollars, along with school funds.

■Road repairs can be funded out of existing dollars. Snyder cut $1.5 billion out of the budget shortly after taking office, and doubts an additional amount is available in the General Fund without gutting other programs. "If you want cuts, tell me where," he says. Already, the General Fund is being tapped for about $100 million a year for roars, and last year the figure was $370 million.

Snyder says passage of Prop 1 is so vital to Michigan that "he's in full campaign mode." That bodes well for the proposal's chances. The new strategy is a lot smarter. There are flaws in Prop 1, and rather than pretend they don't exist, the governor's decision to address them head-on is the right choice.