Our Editorial: Lansing, work on clean road funding bill

The Detroit News

As the deliberations resume on a solution for fixing dilapidated Michigan's roads and bridges one principle that should guide the talks is that road funding is a stand-alone issue. This should not be seen as an opportunity to force the passage of an unrelated legislative wish list.

Proposal 1, defeated by voters last week by a four-to-one margin, failed in large part because lawmakers larded it up with a variety of other spending that had nothing to do with making Michigan's roads safer and smoother.

Instead of a clean proposal that would have raised money only for road work, lawmakers tacked on $800 million in additional spending for schools, revenue sharing to local communities and restoration of the earned income credit for the working poor.

Legislation that attempts to do the same will be greeted with the same reaction from the public. And fighting over a wish list of unrelated proposals will only make getting a roads fix passed more difficult.

Democrats demanded the additional spending measures in exchange for their support for placing Prop 1 on the ballot. Then many in Lansing walked away from the proposal during the campaign, thus squandering the leverage for shaping a Plan B.

Likewise, Republicans should not muddy the debate with a fight over repealing the prevailing wage mandate. The state's prevailing wage law has far more impact on municipal construction projects than it does on roads.

Both Republicans and Democrats should approach the coming debate from a roads-only position. There's plenty of room to argue about how new transportation revenue should be found, and even how it should be spent, but lawmakers should not get distracted by trying to decorate a Christmas tree.

Their constituents expect them to produce a roads answer. Schools, revenue sharing, prevailing wage and the tax credit should be taken up separately.

Michigan citizens, at the same time, must recognize that in defeating Prop 1, they've lost their chance to guarantee all taxes paid at the pump go to road work. That has been a frequent demand raised by motorists. The only sure-fire way to separate the two taxes is to put it in the Constitution. Prop 1 would have done that, the Legislature is not likely to.

Early post-Prop 1 discussion in Lansing has not been encouraging.

Gov. Rick Snyder refused to say whether he'd hold the Legislature in special session beyond the scheduled summer recess until a road funding bill is passed. Lawmakers must know they face a long summer at their desks if they shirk their duty.

Various lawmakers have floated a variety of ideas that fall well short of a solution. Included are a legally questionable proposal to raid the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association fund, a 10 percent across the board spending cut and other gimmicks that would rob money from various pools in state government.

All fall well short of a sustainable and comprehensive fix.

Courage is demanded here, and leadership. Snyder knows the only real choice is to raise the fuel tax or vehicle registration fees, or both. Lawmakers must come to that understanding too. If they can find some lower priority spending to cut in the general fund budget, by all means, throw that into the mix.

But the sooner both lawmakers and the public come to the reality that repairing long neglected roads requires more money than Michigan currently has, the sooner the roads will get fixed.