Tuesday, May 12, 2009

GOP Plays Politics With Michigan Infrastructure

A new report out today gives Michigan an overall grade of "D" when it comes to our infrastructure, complete with ominous warnings about quality of life and economic growth being threatened as a result. Will it take a bridge falling into a river before we listen?

Based on an 18-month survey, the Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers said nine vital infrastructure systems -- aviation, dams, drinking water, energy, navigable waterways, roads/bridges, storm water treatment, wastewater collection and transit -- needed massive transfusions of money if Michigan's economic prosperity and quality of life are to be maintained.

Of the nine systems, aviation, wastewater collection and energy received an overall rating of C, while the remaining systems received a D rating. In 2005, the society gave the entire U.S. infrastructure an overall rating of D+.

Thirty-seven percent of Michigan's roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and thirty-nine percent of Michigan's major roads are congested, according to the report. Reasons why are the usual suspects.

The six major reasons for the condition of the state's roads include: a history of underfunding, decline in fuel tax revenues, rising costs, rising demand, the diversion of funds and an aging infrastructure, according to the report.

The anti-tax Michigan Chamber makes that rare exception for a tax increase to fix roads. Taxes are OK, you see, if they serve business, so they have been pushing on this issue for quite some time. You would think that they would see the light on other quality of life issues as well, since that would serve business too, but instead they call for "more cuts" on everything else. I guess we have to settle for whatever we can get. From MIRS:

"Doing nothing on this key issue would mean lost jobs, bad roads, sending federal money for Michigan to other states, and a failure to improve public transit - which does not sound like a winning political strategy to me," he added.

Political strategy? Is the Chamber admitting that politics comes before the needs of the state and its people and businesses? Silly rabbit, of course it does. Seems the Republicans have been warned by their strategists that any mention of the "t" word might cost them in an election that is a year and a half away, so we better not address our state's critical problems, lest someone pay a political price later. Makes you wonder exactly when anything can ever get done when they play these games this far out.

Short version: GOP political futures are more important than the state's economic health or your safety. Just in case you haven't realized that yet.

The problem that Studley and proponents of changing Michigan's fuel tax system face is that political operatives are getting nervous about public reaction to any change that could even has the whiff of "tax increase." GOP strategists are warning their lawmakers that backing a gasoline tax conversion or increase plan is just political suicide.

"Now's not the time," one strategist recently told MIRS.

Senate Republican Jud Gilbert is reported to have had five GOP votes last fall to throw out our gas tax and replace it with a new wholesale tax. Because they didn't move on this, that head count is now down to three, and after this warning, it's doubtful we will see any movement at all. The stimulus money helps a bit, but does nothing to solve the overall problem that we are underfunding road repair and other infrastructure needs.

You can thank a pink pig and the GOP strategists next time you take the car for repairs. A recent report shows that we pay an average of $370 per motorist a year for our bad roads. Perhaps we should invest in training for more auto repair mechanics - looks like we are going to need them.