Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 27, 2014

Phil Power: Michigan's future — pay now or pay later

Remember the oil filter ad from the 1970’s, where the gruff, grease-stained car mechanic scowls at the camera and says, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later?”

That’s exactly what we are facing in Michigan. Only it’s been that way for a decade when it comes to dealing with the stuff — the fancy word is “infrastructure” — that will define much of our future: The condition of our roads and the quality of our young people’s minds.

Roads first. It’s been a long and terrible winter, and the thaw we’re seeing these days sure is welcome. But today’s thaw means tomorrow’s potholes. The harder the winter, the more and the deeper the potholes. And the more expensive, especially when you discover that big thud you heard when you were driving home means a trip to the shop for a tire and a maybe a new wheel.

To his credit, Gov. Rick Snyder has been pushing for years for the big money needed to fix our roads. But it’s an election year, so of course the Legislature has been doing everything possible to avoid facing facts and coming up with the money everybody knows we need to fix our concrete ribbons.

The first step in this year’s political pander dance was for a couple Republican senators to propose — what else? — a tax cut. But when it turned out that would pay for, maybe, a couple of lattes at the local Starbucks, support cooled. And when we got the thaw and as people gasped at the potholes, the political class began to re-think.

I’m told by Lansing insiders that legislators, regardless of party, are being pounded big time to do something about the roads. “Something” may not mean the $1.2 billion per year that Gov. Snyder has been talking about, but it’s got to be a serious, long-term program to bring our roads into the 21st century, not just a few slaps of cold patch and a thin skin of new paving.

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