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Editorial: Vote Yes on Prop 1

The Detroit News

For 30 years Michigan has reneged on its responsibility to maintain its basic infrastructure. Instead of providing adequate funding to keep its roads and bridges in good condition, the state pushed off critical transportation investments to the next generation.

The bill is past due. Without a huge infusion of new funds, already dangerous roads and bridges will become deadly. Many of the state's highways are all but unpassable due to ruts, ridges and potholes. And overpasses are shedding concrete chunks on vehicles passing below.

That can't continue. Michigan's infrastructure is more fitting of a Third World backwater than a modern industrial state hoping to compete for jobs and development.

The News is historically skeptical of tax increases, believing the first choice should always be to prioritize spending and wring more efficiency from existing revenue.

But we have also never shied away from supporting tax hikes aimed at meeting the state's responsibility to keep citizens safe and secure. The neglect of the infrastructure is now a safety issue that must be confronted immediately.

Proposition 1 on the May 5 ballot is far from the perfect solution to fixing Michigan's roads. But it is the only solution available now, and likely in the foreseeable future.

We no longer have the luxury of deliberation. Those who believe the defeat of Prop 1 will force a better answer must not have paid attention to the excruciating and frustrating negotiations last fall that resulted in the ballot proposal to raise the sales tax by one penny.

Yes, a simple increase in the fuel tax is preferable. But the Legislature couldn't produce that law.

And yes, it would be ideal if cuts here and there in the budget could generate the $1.2 billion needed for roads. But those pushing that solution are disingenuous; that kind of money doesn't exist in the $9.5 billion general fund, without sharply curtailing other essential services.

There's no getting around the reality that Michigan has to raise more revenue for road work.

Prop 1 is not perfect, as we said, but it is a solution to the state's biggest problem.

Proposition 1 is complex but necessary. Taxpayers have long said they want all money raised from taxes on fuel to go to roads. Making that happen requires a series of changes in the tax code.

Since the sales tax on fuel currently goes to schools and local communities, that money had to be replaced, unless the state was willing to sacrifice support for education and police departments.

There's no denying the proposal raises money beyond what's needed for roads. Part of it will go to restore education revenue levels, another critical priority that has been underfunded, and some to improve revenue sharing to local communities, most of which have been hit hard by falling property tax collections.

But the proposal also builds in strong warranties for road work, answering a persistent complaint in Michigan. Contractors will be held accountable for the quality of their work. And fees for heavy trucks will increase.

There is a price to pay both for neglecting responsibilities and for political dysfunction. Michigan put off tough decisions regarding its infrastructure, and when it finally reached the point where the buck could no longer be passed, its political leaders failed in their duties.

So now citizens have to step up. These roads will not fix themselves. Counting on a better solution to come along if Prop 1 fails is a fool's bet. The more likely scenario is that roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate while lawmakers pursue half-baked measures.

Let's put these shoddy roads behind us. Vote "yes" on Prop 1 on the May 5 ballot.