When the snow melted after last year’s harsh winter, it became clear how devastatingly bad Michigan’s roads are.
For two years, Gov. Rick Snyder had urged his fellow Republicans in the Legislature to spend $1.2 billion a year over a decade to get the state’s roads back in shape. Lawmakers did nothing.
This year, motorists demanded, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R., Monroe), that lawmakers “just fix the damn roads.” The Legislature, apparently stricken by cowardice in an election year, still did nothing.
Last week, the Detroit area was hit by a massive rainstorm that closed parts or all of every freeway, some for days. Thousands of basements were flooded; property damage may exceed $1 billion.
Afterward, the Michigan Department of Transportation revealed part of the problem: 58 percent of the state’s freeway pumping stations are in poor condition, largely because lawmakers won’t provide the money needed to maintain them. Some stations were ruined by vandals who stripped the wiring to sell for scrap.
You might have expected the Legislature to convene an emergency session to assess the problem. But incredibly, when lawmakers met the day after the flood, the only item on their agenda was passing a bill to prevent a referendum that would outlaw the hunting of wolves.
Meanwhile, Senator Richardville pleaded for “new ideas” to fix the roads — presumably ones that would magically produce billions of dollars without anyone having to pay for them.
Michigan voters have been amazingly tolerant so far of their leaders’ massive dereliction of duty. Democracy means nothing if elected representatives refuse to serve the public interest.
Senator Richardville and his legislative colleagues need an old idea: Raise revenue — yes, taxes — by the amount needed to keep Michigan’s infrastructure from collapsing.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, a conservative Republican, famously noted that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Michigan urgently needs leaders, and voters, who understand that.