A shortsighted approach
The poor state of Michigan’s roads and bridges is a discussion that predates my time here in Lansing. Over the years, patchwork repairs have let us down and forced us into a situation that is quite difficult to climb out of.
For years, my colleagues and I worked together to put additional dollars toward our roads, including new revenue and prioritizing existing dollars. In 2015, we approved a $1.2 billion plan that has proven to be successful in recent years. The major increase in orange cones you’ve seen in the last couple years is the result of that plan. Last year, we even approved an additional $375 million to fully implement the 2015 plan ahead of schedule and repair four bridges the governor cited as critical.
Unfortunately, that funding was vetoed by the governor during last year’s budget cycle as retribution for not approving her proposed 45 cent gas tax increase. That wasn’t and still isn’t a viable solution to the problem. If you raise the taxes on gas so much that people will drive less, that means they will purchase less gas — which depletes the effectiveness of a gas tax increase as a funding mechanism. Taxing Michigan families out of driving is no solution.
Thankfully, the governor’s 45 cent gas tax hike was rejected on a bipartisan basis. However, the state is facing a new challenge when it comes to fixing our roads after the governor’s recent actions. During her State of the State address, the governor vowed to do an end-run around the Legislature and unilaterally send the state more than $3.5 billion into debt.
Less than 24 hours after her address, the State Transportation Commission unanimously approved the governor’s proposal to pursue a $3.5 billion bonding program to fix the state’s troubled roadways.
This is a shortsighted approach that ignores the many downfalls of bonding.
The most important thing to note: This money must be paid back, with interest, by every Michigan taxpayer. It is estimated that the total repayment amount will end up being over $5 billion. Future generations will also be saddled with the responsibility of paying this back for the next nearly three decades.
It is also important to realize that the state is still paying back bonding obligations from when Gov. Engler was in office. We have spent the last eight years paying down debts and getting Michigan on a solid financial footing, only for the governor to again go against the Legislature to get what she wants. She knows the Legislature never would have approved this proposal, so she is implementing it with no checks and balances. This is not responsible government.
For an individual, business or government entity to live within their means, they cannot borrow money they don’t have and use it as a funding source. What happens when the payments come due? This is what we’re seeing with previous bonding projects. The bills come, the roads that the bonds paid for have since outlived their repairs and need to be repaired again, and now we have a payment and a repair bill due.
Furthermore, this plan is once again an insult from the governor to northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. As I scrolled through the project lists, I couldn’t help but notice the location pattern of where the money will be dispersed. The governor’s friends in Southeast Michigan will receive the largest portion of this funding, with other urban areas following closely behind. None of this money will go toward local roads.
So what this means for my district is this: The governor, by herself, pursued a plan that borrows against our futures and our children’s futures to fund road projects in Southeast Michigan and will then be sticking us with the bill. We will see hardly any of this money but will have the same obligations to pay it back as everyone else.
I have strong reservations about this as the answer to fixing Michigan’s roads. The governor’s plan does nothing to address funding for local roads and leaves Michigan with a financial burden for nearly three decades. This money needs to be paid back. Every time a payment comes due, it takes money away from somewhere else in the state budget.
As chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, I am committed to working with the governor and my colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives to find a solution for Michigan roads and infrastructure.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, represents the 37th state Senate District, which includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Luce and Mackinac counties.