Citizens Fixing Potholes On Their Own, But State Leaders Want To Raise Taxes

Pontiac Tribune – by James Carey

Last year nearly 40% of the roads in Michigan were found to be in poor shape.

With Michigan Legislature sessions failing to fund road repairs in 2015, residents of Hamtramck are taking to the streets to fix potholes on their own– for just $120 per city block!

What makes this accomplishment so impressive is that potholes in Hamtramck, Michigan are known to be some of the worst in the state.  

Even the city’s mayor was supportive of the group’s decision to take action into their own hands.

A proposal to fund roads by raising fuel taxes was rejected by 1.4 million Michiganders in May.

Leading republicans and democrats from Michigan want more than a billion dollars to repair the roadshalf of it paid for by increasing taxes.

The Senate and House both proposed a unique set of bills that remain up for debate — and as always with this state — the devil may be in the details.

Citizens Easily Fix Potholes

  • With 17 bags of cold patch for $120, six people can fill most potholes for an entire city block– in an hour and a half.
  • If just 1% of a city’s residents bought a bag of cold patch for $10, potholes would probably cease to exist in that area.
  • Members of “Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Repair” plan to fill potholes for another 150 city blocks.
  • The organizers, interviewed on NPR on Monday, raised $2,500 from donations in the first three days.

In May we saw Proposal 1, supported by Governor Rick Snyder and approved by both parties, defeated in the most lopsided loss for any proposed amendment in history to the state constitution of 1963.

Now that the state senators and representatives have completed their exhausting seven days of legislating for this month (a total of three days in session for the house and seven for the senate), we have a chance to reflect on where the proposals for road funding are at three months later.

The Senate had approved a set of bills before the end of the session, such as raising the fuel taxes in Michigan and appropriating $700 million a year from the general fund for road repairs.

The state House and Senate now must find a way to merge their respective proposals into one plan of action.

  • House republicans did not agree as a whole with levying new taxes but are interested in discussing the $700 million dollar idea with fellow republicans when they return in August.
  • Both parties are offering resistance to the plans, with only Virgil Smith (D-Detroit, currently facing felony assault and firearms charges) voting in approval in the House. In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley had to cast two tie-breaking votes.
  • When the Senators and Representatives return, they won’t only be seeking compromises across the aisle– State Republicans will need to find common ground amongst each other.

Both parties will have messy proposals to bring to the table when Michigan Legislature resumes sessions next week. Although we can’t know the final results, it would be best to examine what we know is up in the air at this point.

The two tie-breaking votes in the Senate approves proposals to raise Michigan’s gas tax by 15 cents over three years. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says those votes were meant to move the process along.

Earlier this year there was an apathetic rejection by Michigan voters of the tax hikes offered in Proposal 1 when the state tried to make voters shoulder the load by increasing fuel taxes.

The Snyder administration has been guilty of offering hazy solutions and employing shady fast track tactics in the past and the voters rejected a proposal they didn’t trust or understand — similar to their reactions to things like “right to work” and the new “prevailing wage” debate.

Devil is in the Details

Caught between their need for more money and aversion to raising taxes, the republicans so far have only come to agreements on a few points of the big picture proposal.

So far, the only portions agreed on by the majority of Republicans are that more money every year needs to be found in the general fund and invested in roads with some guidelines for bidding out road repair jobs to private contractors.

The agreements reached by republicans thus far include demanding full road replacement warranties on projects over one million dollars, competitive bidding on projects over $100 thousand (hopefully keeping the prices below one million as often as possible to ease burdens on contractors), and $700 million that needs to be taken from somewhere for roads.

So far the Senate narrowly approved raising fuel taxes with the help of Calley, which was rejected by the House, and new unfair “user fees” on hybrid vehicles, which has not yet been voted on by the house.

Both chambers’ Republicans have approved eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that had already previously been cut from approximately 20% to around 6%.  Clear party line voting by the Legislature on the matters and Calley’s rare appearance on the senate floor to cast tie-breaking votes are evidence that this is shaping up to be another murky, harmful deal snuck through by the Michigan GOP and Snyder administration.

State Democrats expressed concern over more legislation that would clearly get swift approval from Gov. Snyder. They have been shut out of similar situations in the past, only to find things they completely disagreed with being passed. The Democrats do raise the one disconcerting issue, which is the problem of the $700 million question.

With the GOP seemingly unable to agree on new sources of tax revenue but able to agree on higher expenditures, they’ve implied the money will be pulled from current revenue that goes into the state’s general fund. The Democrats have proposed making up for this shortfall by raising the state’s corporate income tax from 6% to 9%.

We know Republican lawmakers will not only disagree with the new business taxes, but they’ll make sure their constituents won’t want to attack the private sector as well. The Democrats have been somewhat railroaded throughout the last seven years of this administration, and though their idea isn’t wholly agreeable, we know there will most likely be no discussion of a middle ground for this school of thinking.

There is something to be said for each party’s plans — both positive and negative. There have been measures lately that have curbed some costly concepts like the cut to the film subsidy.

On the other hand, there is still frivolity at state level — such as Lansing’s assistance in selling bonds for a new hockey stadium in Detroit — and of course there is the usual disregard for working families like the cancellation of the EITC.

We can’t know which option will end up being used to fund the broken roads and crumbling bridge. But we do know that the GOP pro-corporate Legislature in Lansing has sacrificed the rights of working families through unpopular legislation at the final sessions for outgoing senators as well as the general pro-business path taken every time they’re presented with the option.

The most recent proposal was to money in the state-funded “Pure Michigan” campaign for the roads, yet pressure from the private sector took this crazy idea off the table. Knowing the positive effect tourism has on our economy and image, there is understandable concern about possible negative impacts from a broken highway and local road system.

The house chose the path more favorable to special interests on both sides by passing HB4607 in effect making “Pure Michigan” funds untouchable and instead diverting $75 million annually from a 1998 settlement between the state and representatives of the tobacco industry. The money was awarded to the state as reimbursement for past Medicaid expenses for tobacco-related health issues. Now the $75 million a year will be diverted out of the “21st Century Jobs” fund into the road fund.

Both chambers of are currently out of session until august (being the full time legislators they are.) Both parties are presumably going to return with more proposals for cuts and possibly more ideas for new taxes or fees to impose. It’s also unclear which way some of the bills only passed by one chamber will go.

What You Need to Know

  1. The Senate returns on August 11th and the House on the 18th; both will be under pressure to at least do something. Gov. Rick Snyder hasn’t said much presumably to leave fixing the roads as his legacy while avoiding controversy for future employment’s sake.
  2. Snyder doesn’t want to be remembered as the  “anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-worker and pro-business” governor who ended up increasing taxes on businesses and workers. Of course, the cuts won’t happen at the top.
  3. We should remain focused on our representatives in the upcoming sessionbecause in one way or another we will be paying for the road repairs. Our legislators must be held accountable for making us responsible for the bill for everything.
  4. The State level legislature is one of the moreaccessible levels of government to the common citizen and this is an issue that should demand our attention and voice.
  5. The special interests and “pro-business” elected officials are already trying to find a way to pass the costs on to the average citizen.

Perhaps our elected leaders in the House and Senate should consider donating to “Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Repair.” 

Crowdfunding solutions to fix potholes looks like it might be successful for Hamtramck– and fuel taxes remain the same for everyone.

Could this hands-on grassroots proposal catch fire before the Senate and House find a solution?

It’s certainly cheaper.

3 thoughts on “Citizens Fixing Potholes On Their Own, But State Leaders Want To Raise Taxes

  1. I live here. I see the road crews working…or more accurately, not working. I suspect the contracts are time and materials and someone in gov is getting kick backs. They take months, like 5, to fix one road.When I lived in IN he roads were fixed in a small fraction of the time and IN receives far fewer taxes than MI. The tax payers here are being squeezed dry by corruption and on top of the taxes our vehicles are being destroyed. We have to foot th he bill for that too.

    1. “The tax payers here are being squeezed dry by corruption”

      That’s everywhere. I-45 between Houston and Galveston has been under construction for 60 to 70 years, and it’s never done. Initially, the construction company known as the Williams Brothers had the contract, which was based on time rather than the job. Now the contracts are based on the job but quality is poor and it doesn’t last like it should.

  2. While potholes are always potholes, “leaders” are not always leaders. The state creates more potholes than it cares to address in places like Viet Nam and Iraq, just to name two while the tax serfs wave the flags they’re still allowed to wave and look to the gang of thieves and murderers known as the government to care about a population they’ve long ago forgotten about except that they are useful idiots. Fix potholes without the state and think without the state also. Smaller states equal better roads and less war.

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