Editorial: We can't fill potholes with photos

The Detroit News
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer fills a pothole during a campaign event in Southfield, Mich., Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

For now, Michigan motorists entering the worst of the pothole season will have to settle for this: Take photos of your damaged tires and repair bills and post them on social media.

That's all Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had to offer in her State of the State address Tuesday night to those desperate for relief from Michigan's wretched roads.

The governor, in her first such speech, detailed the horrid condition of the state's byways and again repeated her campaign mantra of "Fix the Damn Roads." But she stayed far away from any specifics for how she intends to do that. We still have no clue about how she'll fulfill her No. 1 campaign promise. 

The big plan, presumably, will have to wait for next month's budget release. Fair enough. Former Gov. Rick Snyder also used the budget speech to provide details of his proposals.

In the meantime, Whitmer is asking that residents document the damage caused by potholes with photographs posted with the hashtag #FTDR.

Motorists should do more than that. They should start thinking hard about how they are willing to pay for rebuilding the state's infrastructure, and how much.

Funding mechanisms put in place during the Snyder administration, including a small fuel tax hike, are on their way to delivering an extra $1.2  billion annually for road repairs.

At least another $1 billion to  $1.5 billion is needed.

Some reports indicate Whitmer is considering diverting the six cents per gallon sales tax collected on gasoline sales to the roads. Currently, that money goes to K-12 education and local revenue sharing.

Most other states capture the gasoline sales taxes for road work, and that's one reason they have more money to spend on their highways than does Michigan.

It amounts to about $1 billion annually, and would cover most of what's needed. But using it for roads would blow a hole in the budgets of school districts and local communities. 

If Whitmer and the Legislature take that money, they'd have to find replacement funds for education and revenue sharing.

Other options include again raising fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, pushing the price per gallon for gasoline in Michigan well above neighboring states. 

Or, as Whitmer suggested on the campaign trail, the state could issue bonds for road work that will be paid back over time.

Or the governor and lawmakers could find $1 billion in savings from spending cuts in other places in the budget. That means letting go of some programs and initiatives that they currently consider worthwhile. 

Whatever approach is agreed upon, it will require sacrifice from taxpayers and motorists. Michigan roads have reached such a deep state of disintegration that there's no pain-free fix.

The money necessary for bringing them up to acceptable standards will come out of the pockets of Michigan residents.

So while you're snapping those photographs for the governor, consider that reality. We can't just demand better roads; we have to pay for them.