The roads: Snyder's betrayal

Politics & prejudices

Late last summer, one more attempt to get a deal to fix the roads fell apart when Gov. Rick Snyder did the right thing.

He stood up for sanity, and refused to go along with an insane and irresponsible demand by the Republicans who control the state House of Representatives.

They were demanding that any deal to raise the $1.2 billion a year needed to fix the roads included cutting the state's already cash-poor general fund by $600 million a year.

That, anyone who examined the budget knew, would mean cuts to higher education, Medicaid benefits, probably other human services like foster care.

The governor knew that would be terribly irresponsible. Then, this month, he sold us all out.

He agreed to go along with a ridiculously stupid roads plan that is actually worse in some ways than the ones he rejected before. This deal will indeed raise taxes, jacking up your annual vehicle registration fees by about 20 percent.

He also caved in to the worst right-wing yahoos in his party and agreed to cut the general fund by the $600 million they wanted, without saying where those cuts will come from.

With the cowardice that has come to be the trademark of our elected leaders, he and they decided to leave the hard decisions to future legislators, and the next governor.

They get off the hook because term limits mean that almost all of those who passed this turkey will be gone forever before the hard decisions that will hurt people will come.

That, however, is not the worst part. Brace yourselves for this: Despite all these atrocities and more, the "roads plan" won't actually produce any new money to fix Michigan's rumbling bridges and roads for years!

That's right. These bills won't generate any significant new money for the roads before 2018. The plan won't be fully phased in until 2021, when it is supposed to produce $1.2 billion a year. That won't be nearly enough to do that job.

That $1.2 billion figure is how much Snyder said back in 2011 was needed to return the state's roads to decent shape. The problem has gotten much worse since then.

Last year, Rick Olson, a former GOP state representative from Washtenaw County, asked a couple of respected analysts to study the problem, with the help of MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation. They concluded that thanks to increased construction costs and further deterioration, the bill now to fix the roads would be $2.183 billion a year!

That will be even higher by the time the plan just passed generates enough money for the state to get around to it.

And while the roads continue to deteriorate, unless things change, a new generation of lawmakers will be tasked with further crippling Michigan by making those general fund cuts.

When asked by the Gongwer News Service why he flip-flopped on the issue, Snyder's first bizarre response was that "it was really having a good dialogue about talking through things." That, of course, makes no sense at all.

Later, perhaps realizing this, the governor claimed he was now convinced the economy will keep booming, and that so much new revenue will pour into state coffers that it will more than cover the $600 million that has to be cut.

That sounded about on a par with my theory that sooner or later, I'll develop the athletic talent needed to play Major League Baseball. Nevertheless, I asked an expert: Michigan State University economics professor Charley Ballard.

Ballard, the author of the book Michigan's Economic Future, is perhaps the top expert on this state's economy. He told me that sadly "there isn't any reason to believe that these spending cuts will help the economy to grow faster to such an extent that they will pay for themselves. In fact, it's possible that the spending cuts will actually slow the economy down a little."

For example, he noted that this likely means cuts for higher education, and "if so that will mean increased college tuition." There's no way the economy will grow enough to compensate people adequately for that.

But why would the governor make such a claim? Your average tea party yahoo without much formal education (think Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof) might believe that nonsense about the state's economy growing that fast.

Snyder, however, has been a venture capitalist, a leader of a major computer company and an MBA from Michigan.

He can't be that naïve. "I don't know whether (the governor) actually believes the economy is likely to grow so fast that the cuts will barely be felt," Ballard said diplomatically.

"But it makes political sense for him to say this will happen."

Yes indeed. But why did Snyder really sign this package? One insider who knows him thinks he wanted to placate the hicks in the legislature so they go along with his plans to do something to reorganize Detroit's public schools.

Susan Demas, the editor and publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, thinks he really needed something he could pretend was a victory after the mess in Flint. (See below.)

Whatever the reason, our governor signed off on a roads bill that will be another disaster for the state.

If there's a moral in this story, it is that when Rick Snyder talks about "relentless positive action," or says something "is not on my agenda," one thing is clear — especially if it involves anything affecting the lives of ordinary people:

Get ready to get screwed.

Deserving of a Pulitzer Prize Speaking of Flint ... lots of people, including me, have been writing about the water disaster, but one man deserves far more credit than everyone else: Curt Guyette, who did superb work for years at the Metro Times and now does investigative reporting for the ACLU.

Guyette first broke the story that a federal Environmental Protection Agency memo raised questions about lead in the drinking water, and the Snyder administration's testing of it.

Flint citizens had been worried ever since Jerry Ambrose, a Snyder-appointed emergency manager, switched the city from Detroit water to Flint River water, just to save money.

Guyette not only didn't accept the Snyder administration's assurances that the water quality was fine: He worked with researcher Marc Edwards at Virginia Tech to test the water. The result, of course, was conclusive proof that the administration was lying, their tests were bogus, and the corrosive water was causing lead to leach out of the pipes, poisoning babies and young children.

Up till then, the governor and Flint Mayor Dayne Walling (thrown out by the voters earlier this month) were saying there was no money to reconnect Flint to clean water.

Well, guess what? They found some, fast.

Thanks to Guyette, some children may now avoid brain damage — or suffer less than they otherwise would have.

"I've been a reporter for a lot of years, but I've never did anything this meaningful," Guyette told me earlier this month, the night he was honored by the ACLU at their annual dinner.

Indeed, few journalists have. There are few things as trite as saying someone deserves a Pulitzer Prize, but Guyette clearly does, for investigative or public service journalism, if not both.

Let's hope someone nominates him — and the usual suspects who decide the winners do the right thing.

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