Today is December 15, 2014 and that, in itself might mean many things to you. However, for political observers, pundits, analyzers, etc., today marks the final days of the Michigan Legislative agenda for 2014 and will also usher in, in a few very short weeks, a new House and Senate. This is the last week of what is known as Lame Duck, a time when, at least in the last few election cycles, has ushered in laws that have been shocking, partisan, and hurtful even. Lame Duck is NOT a legislative effort required by law. In fact, Lame Duck is not anything but one last chance, especially for those who are term-limited breast beaters, to get in one last dig and attempt to force upon the people of the state of Michigan new laws that they will not have to be held accountable for.
Lame Duck is nothing but a disaster, no matter what Party is in the majority, and for those who pay attention, Lame Duck has become a smorgasbord of political gluttony.
Current Speaker of the House Jase Bolger called the Lame Duck of 2012 “Awesome Duck”. Why? Because that’s when Republicans passed Right to Work, further restrictions on women’s rights, and many other sweeping law changes and additions that continue to harm the once great reputation of this great State. Lame Duck has become a political Super Bowl and the loser always seems to be the home team. In this case the home team is you and me.
As Lame Duck closes this week and we bid farewell to some of the most conservative and dangerous lawmakers this state has ever hosted, it is clear that a wave of new political ideology and the uber-wealthy have helped to turn Michigan from a proudly “Blue” state into the equivalent 98-pound political weakling. The year 2010 is forever burned into my mind and the minds of many others as a year that we finally paid the price for the arrogance of the Democrats in Michigan in expecting people to just be there for them because we are a Blue state. The expectation was that, if we put up a candidate, the Democrats registered to vote in Michigan would show up and elect them. That didn’t happen and now we have this mess that we have which was extended by another four years as whatever the Michigan Democratic Party and Democratic candidates were trying to sell in 2014 fell flat and well short of its goal. GOTV was an ongoing mantra. However, instead of it being the acronym and rallying point for Get Out The Vote, it was substituted by GBTS: Go Back To Sleep.
So, we are facing a few more days of legislative action and no issue is more important than a road fix; a bill that would provide the needed and necessary funds to fix our roads and rebuild and expand our infrastructure.
The going rate is $1.2 billion a year (and by some estimates that is not even nearly enough). The House version of the bill, which passed along Party line votes, would be what they (the GOP) are calling neutral tax change. It involves a formula that reduces sales tax on gasoline, an increase on the wholesale price of gas, and taking money from the school aid fund, among other elements. It is an incomplete proposal that guarantees funding for schools would not drop below today’s levels. That sounds great until you realize that the per-pupil spending in Michigan is far too low to create real, dynamic change. Basically, the House version of the road bill is a disaster. Call it road kill instead.
The Senate passed a plan that supposedly will NOT take money from education. What will end up in the final version of a bill after the House and Senate conference committee is through with it is something that we have not seen yet and remains to be, well, seen.
Oh, and the clock is ticking down, quickly down.
The reason that the roads fix has become so hard is very simple, actually. Nobody in the GOP wants to raise taxes. The Democrats who have no power in this fight, in reality, just keep repeating the same message over and over again: We are waiting to see what the Republicans are going to propose. The Republicans, not wanting to even get close to the word tax, keep telling us that this proposal or that proposal will be the cure. The final version of the bill has yet to materialize so the Democrats wait. Let me suggest here, as a very quick side note, that the Democrats could actually come up with their plan and try to sell that. But that’s just a suggestion.
Over the weekend I read a handful of articles wanting to place blame wherever it could. In all honesty, although the blame belongs to the last five Governors, it is John Engler, and to a large degree Jennifer Granholm, who both flubbed this one in a big way.
The answer is actually very simple and it is something that the people of Michigan have already said they were OK with: raise taxes in a way that will generate the needed funds to fix, repair, build, or rebuild our roads. Make a real attempt to raise them in an equitable way and do NOT force this tax on just the middle class and poor. Close some loopholes, be more aggressive in seeking federal dollars, and then watch as we see employment in the construction trades and those trades related to doing this massive work project create great jobs and put skilled labor back to work. Many of the jobs created will be permanent as the process of repairing, rebuilding and expanding our roads will be many years long. Along with those new jobs will come better benefits and opportunities to grow and expand opportunity in Michigan.
Folks, this is not just about filling potholes. You do get that right?
The road to fixing our roads is simple and I believe that is the hang up in the end because politicians are serving the extreme ends of their political parties at the cost of our progress and safety.
One side doesn’t want to raise taxes because the infinitesimal minority of their (Tea) Party will be incensed and the other side doesn’t want to be labeled the Tax-and-Spend Party. Too late for both. Just suck it up, find an equitable way to raise taxes, and get this moving. The longer we wait, the worse the roads will get and the $1.2 billion dollar price tag will grow and grow. In fact, it already is.
Oh, and this is important: If a road plan that can get the Governor’s signature does not materialize this week, forget about the next legislative session. That batch of new lawmakers will make this batch seem liberal, and oh how I wish I were joking.
Start making some calls the second you are done reading this as it may be the only thing that will help. I mean it, pick up the phone now.