In My Opinion
Governor plans to ‘go it alone’
She sounded irritable when delivering her second State of the State message last Wednesday, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer caused some equally irritable feelings among a lot of state residents with her less-than-collaborative tone in telling state legislators that she plans to “go it alone.”
The pressure on Whitmer is understandable, given that she’s receiving little help from the legislature in trying to fulfill her campaign promise to “fix the damn roads.” But that pledge, along with protecting the Affordable Care Act and dismantling the law that threatens to hold back more than 5,000 third-graders next year if they can’t read up to grade level, makes three issues that I don’t think can be resolved without consensus.
“I am not here to play games,” an irked Whitmer said. “It’s time for Plan B, and I’m going on without you.”
That’s the kind of tone we witness in Washington, D.C., where political parties seem to be fighting a war against each other, rather than focusing on helping the wounded who are being trampled by their lack of attention to what’s most important.
“Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions,” former professional road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong said. “The fact is, no one ascends alone.”
When Whitmer came to office last year, she touted the fact that, as a veteran member of the state Legislature, she had the ability to work across the political aisle to get things done. Her Plan A road-fix plan, though, never even made it close to the aisle. Republican legislators couldn’t swallow Whitmer’s 45-cents-per-gallon fuel tax to pay for her plan which would have left Michigan motorists with the largest gas tax in the nation.
That’s when Whitmer’s experience should have kicked in, however, finding another way to work across the aisle for a solution to one of the state’s biggest issues. It’s part of what encouraged voters to elect her governor 16 months ago. Whitmer now figures she will be better off trying to solve the road-funding problem without the support of her legislature, blaming “political gridlock” and “inaction” as the problem.
Whitmer told state legislators and the people of Michigan in her address Wednesday that she will ask the State Transportation Commission to bond for $3.5 billion over five years in a partial plan to fix the state’s major roads and bridges while ignoring local and primary road networks. But that’s kind of like putting the state’s road construction on a credit card where you get the money today and postpone repayment of the debt for another legislature to solve. The state still owes approximately $1 billion or more from bonds issued in 2011 for special road projects.
From all reports, legislators do realize that our roads and bridges are in serious condition and that something must be done to fix the problem. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the condition of our roads an overall grade of D-minus with just 18 percent of our roads in “good’ condition. So, it’s imperative that our elected officials act together to find a solution that makes sense, but it must be a plan that Michigan taxpayers also will support.
Currently, Michigan funds road improvements through fuel taxes. The state collects 19 cents per gallon of tax on gasoline and 15 cents per gallon on diesel fuel, which has been in place since 1997. These dollars go directly to the Michigan Transportation Fund to pay for road repairs. In addition, funds are collected from vehicle registrations and licenses that are deposited into the MTF. The state collects another 6 percent sales tax on each gallon of fuel, but that money goes into the general fund.
In a sense, we are trying to fix our roads using a formula that was put in place in 1951 under Public Act 51 which didn’t take into consideration more fuel-efficient vehicles and the possibility of electric cars and trucks. Because they use no fuel, those vehicles of the future will not be adding fuel tax dollars to road improvement funds. Dwindling fuel tax dollars with no decrease in road use makes the situation even more serious.
Legislators must work together to find a reasonable solution to Michigan’s deteriorating roadways. This isn’t just the governor’s problem, it’s government’s problem. As taxpayers, we should demand they all work cooperatively to find a solution with which taxpayers can live. Does that mean higher taxes? Probably. But taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.
Any new tax must be reasonable, however, and it should include opportunities for new funding sources, such as tolls on our major highways to capture revenue from cars and trucks that travel our roads but may not purchase any fuel in our state. And state leaders must direct all taxes on fuel and sales to be used only for roads. If the state decides to issue bonds for road construction and improvements, it should be required to determine where the money will come from to pay off the bonds.
Finding solutions for our roads is a big issue and needs everyone at the table – because going it alone isn’t acceptable.
County boards can hold private meetings?
I think it’s a good idea for boards to set some time aside for goal-setting and planning, but anytime they do, the time and date of such meetings should be published so taxpayers are properly informed.
Chairwoman Heather Wing pitched the idea of a planning workshop at the Jan. 7 meeting of the Barry County Board of Commissioners but, at that time, the times and dates had not yet been confirmed. That planning workshop eventually occurred in two sessions, the first from 1 to 5 p.m. Jan. 28 and the second, an evening session, from 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 29.
Virtually no notice was made of the meetings, however, and on Jan. 29 after the county courthouse where the board holds its meetings had closed for the day, our reporter had to pound on windows and doors and upset employees (who didn't know commissioners were meeting upstairs) to finally gain entrance when someone pushed open the locked door.
Commissioners were asked about it and they pointed out that meeting times and dates were posted, as required, on the courthouse bulletin board and the county website. That’s procedure, but they failed to inform our staff or publish the meeting dates and times in any of our publications. The public was unaware of the special meeting.
When pressed on the issue, commissioners maintained that the workshop meeting was not only posted, it was mentioned during a prior committee of the whole meeting. But dates were tentative and times were not mentioned at their committee of the whole meeting because it had not yet been confirmed with the special consultant who was hired to conduct the planning and goal-setting sessions.
One might wonder: Was the county board conveniently observing the letter of the law by posting the meeting at the courthouse and on the county website or was it avoiding the obligation to let the public know so it could meet in private?
These people are public servants who are required by law to do their business in public, with limitations clearly spelled out for when they are allowed to hold a private meeting. When the commission met for the second session Jan. 29, the courthouse doors were locked, making it impossible for members of the public to attend the meeting after 5 p.m.
Because we attend these meetings, cover local government and do our due diligence, we found out about the meetings and were there to report the outcome (see the story in this issue of The Banner). I don’t believe commissioners met with an intention to avoid the public, but they certainly didn’t follow the spirit of the law, which requires transparency.
Fred Jacobs, CEO,
J-Ad Graphics Inc.