How will Whitmer keep her roads promise?
“Fix the damn roads.”
Many Michigan residents grew tired of that phrase last summer and fall as now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used it at every campaign stop she made.
Now in office for a month, residents will look to her in the weeks and months ahead to see just what is her plan is to make road repairs happen.
But, if past history provides any insight, unless she is a magician who can pull a rabbit from a hat, it won’t be easy.
This week, I cringed reading a newspaper story in which four former state legislators of both parties called for a 47-cent increase to the fuel tax over nine years that would raise an additional $2.5 billion in annual spending.
More specifically, the plan calls for hiking the 26-cents-a-gallon gasoline and diesel taxes by 7 cents in 2020, followed by yearly 5-cent increases through 2028.
Now, keep in mind, Michigan motorists already pay the sixth-highest taxes on fuel in the country and a recent study by IvI5, a company that makes maps for autonomous vehicles, ranked Michigan’s roads as being the worst in the nation.
It is not as if state legislators have ignored the issue over the years. In 2015, the Legislature approved laws raising road funding that has been implemented in stages … leading up to 2021, when $600 million will be available from the general fund. That will be made up from a 20-percent increase in vehicle registration fees and a 7.3-cent increase in fuel taxes.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand where much of the problem lies. Michigan does not allocate all of its gas tax money for roads. Much of the money also is being used in education funding.
To his credit, new Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul Ajegba — a 29-year MDOT veteran — knows his job isn’t going to be easy. He is well aware of past efforts, the history behind those that failed, and the need to balance revenue with road funding.
I appreciate a story I read this week in the Detroit News in which Ajegba stressed the need for new ideas, new perspectives and new solutions as he and state leaders try to address the problem.
“Regardless of how much funding we get, we’re going to have to continue to raise the bar on innovation,” Ajegba was quoted as saying in the story.
I wish him luck with that.
I agree it is needed, and I will be rooting for him all the way to make it succeed.
But, again, history is an ugly “kick in the pants” when it comes to Michigan road funding over the years.
Finding a Michigan pothole is easy. Finding the quarters to purchase the patch to fill those potholes has been much harder.
State residents will get their first clues as to what the new governor has in mind probably Feb. 12, when she delivers her first State of the State address.
With the responsibility to have her first budget prepared for the Legislature in March, whatever we hear in February should be outlined in more detail in that budget proposal.
Hopefully, by next year, “fix the damn roads” will be a slogan long forgotten.
Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.