Loud words, but good chance of cooperation on roads money

In this corner, the governor of the state of Michigan, calling for a whopping and eye-popping 45-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike to fix the roads.

In the other corner, the two GOP legislative leaders shouting across the ring, “fer git it.” (sic)

So, when the two sides meet in the middle of the legislative ring, will they fight or decide to cooperate?

The betting money at this early read is they will try to work together to get this done once and for all, and the chances of that are very real.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer startled this town by offering her gas tax hike that would “finally fix the problem,” as she feverishly tried to justify the number, not only to the folks who have to vote on it, but to the motorists who would have to pay a 71-cents-a-gallon tax when her hike is added to existing taxes.

She suggested this was a “40-year problem of disinvestment” in the making, as governor after governor and Legislature after Legislature nibbled around the edges of applying a Band-Aid to all those potholes, when a wholesale repaving was needed.

The argument makes sense because it is true. Under former Gov. John Engler, they had to drag him kicking and screaming to hike the gas tax by 4 cents a gallon. And then he mortgaged the state’s future by selling bonds to do the job that a higher gas tax might have done.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder opened his road-fix performance by suggesting $2 billion a year was needed to get the job done. He tried to use logic with the GOP Legislature, saying, “It will cost you more if you wait.” But when has logic ever won a debate? This instance, it didn’t.

Snyder got a 7-cent gas tax hike and other fees, but the bottom-line number was $1.2 billion, well short of his target.

He left office and turned the mess over to Mrs. Whitmer.

She once called a 20-cents-a-gallon increase “ridiculous,” but that was candidate Whitmer. Gov. Whitmer dove into the issue and realized that $2.5 billion would be needed.

The state Senate GOP leader, Mike Shirkey, agrees with her on the price, but does not like her solution. He has one of his own, which could avoid the gas-tax option.

The Clarklake lawmaker seeks to be successful on squeezing savings out of the no-fault car insurance system, where others have failed miserably. Mr. Shirkey wants to deposit those savings and give some of them back to you, but then use the rest of the savings to fix the roads.

,On paper, it makes sense. But it requires the trial lawyers, the insurance companies, and the hospitals to cough up the savings. And, for the last 30 years or so, they have graciously declined to go there, telling state officials to buzz off.

Undaunted, Mr. Shirkey is running the numbers and will then use some form of persuasion to get the cost savings. That could be a tougher assignment than raising the gas tax, which Mrs. Whitmer contends would be “one historic vote,” and then they could move onto other issues.

For you, the motoring public, you’ll continue to shell out hundreds of dollars for busted wheel rims, shattered windshields, blown tires, etc., etc. — to the tune of $500 or more a year — until and unless the folks under the Capitol dome can muscle their way to produce better roads over the next 10 years.

Everybody wants to do it. That’s the easy part.

Finding the money remains the nut that officials Lansing has been unable to crack. But they are poised to get in the center of the ring and give it a good whack.

In the meantime, continue to dodge those potholes the best you can.