Editorial: Fund road repairs with budget cuts, tax hikes
MACKINAC ISLAND --
A breakthrough on road funding never materialized during the Detroit Regional Chamber's policy conference here. But the folly of an all spending cuts state House plan that strips resources from other essential programs was fully exposed.
Gov. Rick Snyder took the stage to denounce a proposal to gut economic development programs to find money for roads. And he's right.
The House plan would take $185 million out of the budget of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the state's primary tool for competing with other states for jobs and investment. Business leaders are opposed to the plan because they recognize there's no point in making road conditions competitive at the expense of killing other development initiatives.
Or, as Doug Rothwell, chief executive of Business Leaders for Michigan, said, "Don't solve this problem by creating another."
Rothwell acknowledged that given the overwhelming defeat of Proposal 1, which would have raised the sales tax to fund road repairs, that getting all $1.2 billion needed for infrastructure is not realistic. Some spending cuts will be necessary.
Rothwell released a poll suggesting voters will support a plan that combines spending cuts and a hike in the gasoline fuel tax and/or vehicle registration fees, if all them money goes to roads.
Also important to win public support is reinstating the efficiency bills that were tie-barred to passage of Prop. 1. Those included higher fees on heavy trucks and firm warranties on contractors to guarantee the quality of their work.
One of the cuts that would result from stripping funds from the MEDC is an end to the popular and successful Pure Michigan campaign. That award-winning effort has raised awareness nationwide of Michigan's tourist attractions, and is credited with boosting the tourism industry coming out of the 2008 recession.
House Speaker Kevin Cotter insists the $29 million for Pure Michigan will not have to be slashed. But if MEDC loses more than a quarter of its revenue, hard decisions will have to be made on what to fund.
The Mackinac conference was useful in giving House members an opportunity to hear from at least one constituency that would be harmed by their road funding plan.
Allowing time for the House to realize the unintended consequences of its plan is part of a strategy to get a road bill passed by summer's end, and it's a useful exercise.
In a few weeks, the Senate will introduce its own version, one expected to be closer to the combo solution suggested by Rothwell, and to what Snyder supported during last fall's lame duck legislative session.
By then, House members should be well schooled in the impracticality of their proposal and will be ready to cast the hard votes for a realistic plan large enough to solve Michigan's road funding crisis for the long term.