Dear Michiganders: Wood putty won’t fix the roads

I walked up to the checkout counter at the local hardware store with two items: a small tub of wood putty and a gallon of Coleman camp fuel. The clerk asked me if I came into the store for both of those items, or just one.

Just one, I replied. The wood putty.

But, seeing they had Coleman fuel, and, because I just finished unpacking after a recent move back to Michigan after a 30-year absence (I have been moving around the country since the 1970s), and I remembered my father’s 1960s Coleman camp stove, I figured that, if power were to go out, I could at least fry me an egg or two.

The move back to Michigan has been everything I hoped it would be. After a December retirement from a newspaper publisher job in Nebraska, my dear wife, Josie, and I had been planning this move for a long time. Tragically, Josie died unexpectedly, so I accelerated our plans and made the move a year ahead of schedule.

I took my little hardware sack back to my new place in Hubbard Lake, flipped on the radio to stay abreast of Michigan news, knowing the governor was going to introduce her budget that day. I finished puttying up a few misplaced nail holes on my new laundry room door and then carried the Coleman gas can out to the garage and set it right next to Dad’s camp stove that hasn’t been fired up in 40 years.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget dominated the news that day, so, while the media focused in on two of her main issues, the state’s potholes and gas taxes, I couldn’t help but tie the governor’s budget and my visit to the hardware store together. I was filling holes, too, and about to pour the gas into the stove.

Whitmer plans to raise the gasoline tax by 45 cents per gallon. That’s not going to fly. Sure, the roads need maintenance and repair. We all know that. But let’s be a little more creative here. Michiganders — which, according to my new driver’s license, I am one again — are already paying nearly 60 cents a gallon in taxes: about 15 cents in sales tax, another 26 cents in state gas tax, and 18.4 cents in federal gas tax.

Raising the state’s portion by 45 cents will make taxes on gas over $1 a gallon! That means you and I will pay over $20 in tax each time we fill up. If she gets her way, that amounts to an additional $9 per tank (20 gallons).

Who is that going to affect the most? Well, the very Michiganders who can least afford it, that’s who. Her increase would make Michigan the highest gas-taxed state in the nation. Now, don’t get me wrong and think I am opposed to taxes. It beats having to go out and fill all those pot holes and repair the bridges on my own, but clearly 49 other states have found a better way than tripling gas taxes to address the issue, so Lansing needs to do the homework and find out how to give us not only the government we want, but one we can afford.

Obviously, they are going to have to look at efficiencies for savings, accountability to ensure all the current expenditures are being spent wisely, and, finally, look at state services currently provided and see if we can hold the line on expenses a few years while we get the “damn” roads fixed.

It is a monumental task.

I don’t have all the answers, but, then again, I am retired, with nothing to do but fill a few nail holes, fry eggs on Dad’s old stove, and write an occasional newspaper column. Wood putty alone won’t fix the roads, so the legislators in the hot seats must hear from us. Self-governance doesn’t end on Election Day. That’s the day it begins. If we truly are a representative democracy, then our responsibility is to advise our employees (the folks we elected) on what we want and need from our state government and how much we can pay for it.

On a lighter note, I was reading my horoscope in The Alpena News a few days ago. It said, “As for this environment you’ve landed in, you’ve seen so much of it that you no longer really notice what’s really there. Something will happen to wake you up though, and all this will look different to you.”

I believe the horoscope was referring to the melting glacier around my house and that the “something will happen” refers to spring, when I will see the lawn my neighbor, Mark, says I have under all this!

But, before I break out the lawnmower, I will be contacting the governor’s office and our representatives to the state House and state Senate, and I encourage you to do the same.

In the meantime, I invite you to let me know your thoughts about the proposed 45-cent gas tax increase at gregawtry@awtry.com, and what your solutions might be.

Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at gregawtry@awtry.com.