Michigan voters have left little doubt about their top priority. Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville (R., Monroe) put it best a few weeks ago: Every time he went home, he heard a clear message from his constituents: “Just fix the damn roads.”
After years of neglect and the recent brutal winter, that’s a common statewide sentiment. Thousands of drivers have lost tires or worse. No wonder — road maintenance and repair have been neglected drastically for years.
There’s a lesson here for Ohio, whose roads aren’t in much better shape than those in Michigan. Failure to invest in a state’s basic transportation network is a road to economic ruin.
Two years ago, Gov. Rick Snyder told his fellow Republicans, who control both houses of the Michigan Legislature, they needed to appropriate $1.2 billion a year for the next decade to repair roads and prevent further deterioration. His calls were ignored.
This year, however, Mr. Richardville seems to have discovered the public good. He proposed raising an eventual $1.5 billion a year, largely by boosting the gasoline tax over three years. But in an appalling failure of government, the Legislature failed to appropriate even an additional penny for roads.
This was in part because of partisan games, but mostly through the cowardice of lawmakers who feared retribution from anti-tax groups such as the misnamed “Americans for Prosperity,” funded by the fanatical Koch brothers.
State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from the Upper Peninsula, may have won the irrationality prize. Explaining why he helped kill higher fees on the giant overweight trucks that are the worst road-destroying offenders, he said: “We are not going to fix this by singling out one particular industry.”
Eventually, negotiations collapsed into partisan finger-pointing, and both houses of the Legislature recessed. But instead of returning this week to finish the people’s business, they gave themselves a two-month vacation, essentially so that those not term-limited out of office could campaign for re-election. That’s something that, unless they decide to come back and pass a plan to fix the roads, virtually none of them deserves.