Friday, January 29, 2010

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Threatens Lawmakers Who Won't Raise Taxes for Roads

Here is something you won't see everyday. The anti-tax Michigan Chamber of Commerce does a full 180 when it comes to raising gas taxes for road work - and makes insinuations that lawmakers who don't support this might receive the cold shoulder come election time.

Can I get a Nelson Muntz "haw-haw!" out of this one? Gotta love the irony here.

Lawmaker fears that voters will punish them for raising taxes, hardly popular, is one reason why the gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1997. Some business groups, however, are warning legislators that rejection of road tax increases will count against them when it comes time to make endorsements.

“We’re saying to lawmakers ‘if not now, when? And if not now, what is your alternative?’ ” said Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “There is a real cost to the political and financial neglect of our transportation system, lost jobs, time, wages, money. It’s very quantifiable.”

There is also a "real cost" to the political and financial neglect of our education, public safety and health care systems as well, also "very quantifiable", and the hypocrisy of the Chamber is not lost on anyone who pays attention to these things. But, putting that aside for now, the loss of road funding is a huge issue for this state. If we don't pony up for federal matching funds, we stand to lose billions of dollars and thousands of construction jobs.

As predicted at the beginning of December, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation had to cancel 243 planned road projects yesterday due to lack of funding, and, not only will that cost us $2.1 billion in federal dollars over the next five years, money that will now go to other states mind you, it will cost us thousands of construction jobs as well. Maybe even cause some road construction businesses based in Michigan to take their shiny, expensive trucks and skilled employees and follow the money out of state as well.

If lawmakers don’t act on revenue this year, road construction employment would drop from 17,000 in 2010 to about 7,000 by 2012, according to department estimates. Overall construction spending on state highways and bridges would drop from an annual average of $775 million to $232 million.

In a time where "jobs, jobs, jobs" are the first words to tumble from every lawmaker's lips, this would be the perfect opportunity to lead with job creation (or retention) as the reason why this increase is necessary. Throw in the benefits to business, and quality of life issues such as car repair costs and such, and it's a no-brainer, right?

Not if you are a teabaggin' Republican who is up for election this year.

The House has a bipartisan proposal to raise the gas tax 4 cents by March 2010 (would anyone even notice?) and another 4 cents by 2013. Diesel taxes would go up 12 cents in that time frame. Rep. Dick Ball (R) and Pam Byrnes (D) introduced the proposal earlier this week. Oddly enough, they didn't lead with the strong suit of "jobs" on this issue, but talked about "critical repairs" and "doing what's right" and getting beyond the partisan politics to serve the state. Nice touch. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell Republican legislative leadership to get on board and back the plan.

Bill Nowling, spokesman for House Republicans, said a tax vote on roads may not occur until after the November election.

“I don’t see the appetite to take this up right now,” he said. “We know we have a funding problem. We’re not sure this package addresses enough of the reform issues.”

Zzzzz. The words "reform issues" and "appetite" are soooo Bishop circa 2009. That's how unoriginal the House Republicans are. But it is telling that they are indicating that nothing gets done until after the election. Remember that. The Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have a new word this year...

Matt Marsden, a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, said he expects Republican lawmakers will remain skeptical of proposals to fix roads with higher taxes.

In other words, "no". Might as well just adjourn until after the election, right?

Republicans in our legislature are now acting against the expressed interests of "business", with Bishop ignoring the wishes of the Chamber on this issue, and the Business Leaders group and their ideas for overall reform. The zeal to appease the extremists in their party will cost the state untold damage on this and other issues that are important to businesses, as lawmakers stall for yet another year.

Will "businesses" now notice that the Republicans are not on their side?