It’s disappointing that Lansing ignored the will of 80% of Michigan voters who wanted politicians to reprioritize spending rather than raise taxes to fund road repair. Unfortunately we’ve seen this pattern of behavior all too frequently. The establishment wing of the Republican Party, catering to their donors at the Chamber of Commerce, hikes taxes on Michigan’s middle class. Like a broken record playing the same old song, the Chamber lobbies to raise your taxes then squeals like stuck pigs if anyone suggests they too must pay more.
Quoting from the Detroit Free Press (November 4, 2015), here is what Rich Studley, President and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce had to say about the latest tax increase on middle class families.
“Lawmakers who think the condition of Michigan's roads can be improved with "fairy dust or wishful thinking or Monopoly money," rather than through raising new revenues, should be held accountable for taking that position, Studley said.”
It is clear that the Chamber of Commerce not only represents big business, it also represents big government. Mr. Studley is fine with raising “new revenues” as long as someone else is paying the tab.
The votes to increase gas taxes and registration fees were rammed through quickly by establishment Republican leadership. Anyone who has followed the legislative process knows that taxpayers end up on the short end of the stick when quick votes are pushed through during late night legislative sessions. The establishment wanted quick passage so they wouldn’t be pressured by phone calls from the 80% of Michigan voters who earlier told them to fix the roads by reprioritizing spending, not by raising taxes.
To be clear, not every Lansing legislator agrees with Mr. Studley. Fortunately there are citizen champions like State Senator Patrick Colbeck. Senator Colbeck has been one of the 80% from day one. Here are his comments, made from the floor of the State Senate in opposition to another establishment initiated tax hike.
Another day, another tax increase proposal. The same citizens who voted in opposition to a proposal to increase our taxes to fix our roads by a 4-to-1 margin are now being asked to deal with a number of cost increases in their lives. The cost of groceries is going up, the price of health care is going up, and the price of college tuition continues to go up at more than four times the rate of inflation. The price of electricity continues to go up, the price of water and sewage continues to go up, and now our citizens are being asked to fork over money for another cost increase in their lives, an increase in the price of government.
We all agree that we need to fix the roads. We all agree that it takes money to fix the roads. In light of all the financial pressure upon our families due to increasing costs in all facets of their lives, don’t you think that the responsible thing to do would be to find ways to fix the roads without taking more of their money? They pay us to pinch the pennies of state government so that they don’t have to pinch their pennies at the kitchen table.
Over the past five years, our state budget has increased from $46.8 billion to $54.5 billion, yet we are told that we don’t have enough money to fix the roads with existing funds. What is a higher priority than roads? Is every line item in this $54.5 billion budget a higher priority than our roads? If not, we do not need to increase taxes. As you know, I issued a debate challenge to the previous speaker and all of my colleagues here to find an answer to that very question. The question remains open.
My friends, the fact remains that we do not need to increase taxes to pay for our roads. It is time to dispense with politics as usual. With politics as usual, tax increases are always the first and last option pursued. It is time to break this pattern of thinking and put our thinking caps on.
The key to sustainable roads solutions is to fix the roads faster than they degrade. Too much time has been spent on throwing more money at the problem in hopes of fixing roads faster. Too little time has been spent on finding ways to make roads that last longer. The fact remains that there are ways to make roads last longer that won’t break the bank. There are additives that would cost 15 percent more per project but would yield roads that last four times as long. Let’s upgrade the roads so they will last four times longer. In the long run, it would lower our road maintenance costs from the $4.5 billion target we are currently proposing to well within our current $3.3 billion funding level.
Our citizens deserve better. Do you ever wonder why the approval rating of the legislators on both sides of the aisle are so low? This is why. I urge my colleagues to vote “no” on House Bill Nos. 4376 and 4378 and support measures that actually improve the quality of our roads.
To make matters worse, the gas tax increase contained in House Bill 4378 is indexed for inflation. This means that establishment Republicans approved a perpetual tax increase.
It is no wonder that 62% of Republican Primary voters feel “betrayed” by politicians in their own party. We’ll see how the feelings of bet(R)ayal along with the perpetual tax increase impacts the 2016 primary elections in Michigan.