Mitchell: We need leadership to solve road challenge

Paul Mitchell

We have all seen the struggles here in Michigan to find a solution to fix our roads. Late last year the legislature tried to pass the buck to voters by cobbling together the largest tax increase in Michigan in the last 50 years with much of the money generated earmarked for spending that had nothing to do with the roads. I was proud to lead the coalition against that tax increase and through a grassroots campaign helped to defeat that misguided proposal by a historic 80 percent to 20 percent vote May 5. Now more than five months later, the legislature still has not identified a solution to our road conditions. What is needed is leadership to achieve solutions, not mind-numbing politics.

Washington also has a significant problem in dealing with how we fix our national highways due to the fact that the federal government currently spends about $50 billion a year on roads, but the federal gas tax only brings in about $34 billion. Since 2008 more than $65 billion has been transferred from the general fund into the highway trust fund. The most recent rewrite of federal highway law was passed in 2005 but expired in 2009. Since that time our national road and infrastructure program has operated under a series of short-term extensions, usually passed at the last minute, and without needed improvements in policy. This process denies states and local units of government the ability to conduct the long-term planning that is necessary to set priorities.

In recent months there had been hope for a solution being found in Congress that would provide needed funding to support a long-term transportation package without raising taxes. That idea achieved new revenue through international corporate tax reform which would allow American companies to bring trillions in profits earned overseas, but parked in foreign banks due to onerous tax restrictions, back into our domestic economy with resulting tax revenue supporting roads and infrastructure. Two problems would be solved with one bold deal — better national highways and significant new money available for investment in companies and jobs in America. But now it appears that more Washington dysfunction is again getting in the way and hope for such a solution is fading, which means we likely face another extension or half measure. That is truly a shame and I hope the political will can be found to reach a bold solution.

Michigan has come close to addressing our road challenges through measured and responsible proposals passed by the State House of Representatives both last session and the current legislative session that reprioritized current state spending. Unfortunately politics as usual in Lansing has resulted in gridlock, not action, with too many of our senators being found incapable of taking any stand or putting forward any ideas to solve the problem. In both Lansing and Washington leadership is desperately needed to solve problems including our transportation infrastructure. The voters elected these politicians to do a job, and they need to get to work. Our citizens deserve no less.

Paul Mitchell is the former CEO of Ross Education, chairman of the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals and currently a candidate for Michigan's 10th Congressional District.