Michigan’s record on infrastructure: Ignore everything

LANSING — In the summer of 2003, a massive power outage brought a swath of the eastern United States and Canada ‒ including much of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula ‒ to a standstill.

The blackout, which started when a single electrical wire touched a tree in Ohio, left roughly 50 million people in the dark for days, and exposed the vulnerability of the electric grid.

In August 2007, an eight-lane bridge on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis collapsed, plunging vehicles into the Mississippi River below and killing 13 people. Work was being done on the bridge shortly before it buckled, though federal investigators determined the likely cause was a design flaw that left the bridge unable to handle an increased load.

On a single day in August 2014, metro Detroit was deluged with 5 to 6 inches of rain. The storm swamped drain pipes, which in turn flooded freeways and backed up sewage into basements across the region.

All of these were major infrastructure breakdowns. Often, though, problems with infrastructure stay out of sight and out of mind until something goes wrong ‒ like, say, underground lead pipes ‒ as long as drinking water is properly treated for corrosion. So our infrastructure to-do list continues to grow: Aging bridge supports.

Combined storm and wastewater sewers. Rural counties without wide access to broadband Internet.

That lack of attention is costing us.

Just 57 percent of the nation’s estimated $3.3 trillion in necessary infrastructure repairs by 2025 are funded, according to a new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, a professional organization based in Reston, Va. The report doesn’t break out state-by-state estimates.

Delaying needed infrastructure repairs for surface transportation, water systems, electricity, airports and seaports could result in nearly $4 trillion less in U.S. GDP by 2025 ‒ a figure that could balloon to more than $14 trillion by 2040 if left unchecked, the report said. By 2025, poor infrastructure conditions could cost U.S. businesses more than $7 trillion in sales and 2.5 million jobs.

Michigan has had the dishonor of having the worst infrastructure of all 50 states: It earned a D letter grade in the ASCE’s last state infrastructure report card, in 2009. An updated state report is due next year.

“We can’t function as a high-functioning, well-oiled economy if we’re not funding infrastructure appropriately,” said Brian Pallasch, the society’s managing director of government relations and infrastructure initiatives.

Whether it’s importing foreign goods into American ports or exporting vehicles from Detroit, he said, “our infrastructure is the backbone of that economy. If you have frequent power outages, businesses can’t continue to do the manufacturing they need to do to make the economy work.”

Infrastructure is now the top public policy priority among Michiganders ‒ beating even jobs and the economy ‒ for the first time in the history of a Michigan State University survey that tracks the subject. The topic also topped the list in a recent survey of Crain's subscribers.

Organizers of this year’s Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference, taking place this week on Mackinac Island, expect infrastructure to be a prominent discussion topic.

Sandy Baruah, the Detroit chamber’s president and CEO, told reporters this month that Michigan’s business community believes the state has underinvested in infrastructure for years ‒ a problem that could affect companies’ ability to grow and recruit talent.

Yet in some ways, the newfound attention speaks to our tendency toward reactivity, rather than proactivity, according to economists, engineers and other industry professionals.

When infrastructure fails, it can fail in such dramatic form that it dominates headlines, prompts investigations ‒ and sometimes reforms ‒ and raises the level of public consciousness to the problem. That happened after the 2003 blackout and again in Minneapolis.

Nowhere is that happening more today than in Flint, where Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and city leaders are trying to contain a public health emergency caused by lead-contaminated drinking water.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed since a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water source from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in 2014. State and federal agencies are investigating. Employees tasked with ensuring safe drinking water have been criminally charged. And city and state leaders still are working to make the water safe enough to drink.

Snyder has convened a task force to study all of the state’s infrastructure systems, their interconnectedness and which repairs should take priority. He asked the Legislature for $165 million in seed money for a new statewide infrastructure fund, though the amount likely will be less because the state anticipates it will take in less revenue this year.

Our renewed interest in infrastructure, engineers and economists suggest, points to a deeper problem.

Weaknesses in the system are increasingly noticeable because conditions are getting worse. They’re getting worse because states, including Michigan, don’t invest enough into ongoing maintenance. Because infrastructure isn’t sexy, politicians don’t always champion the cause as strongly as competing budget priorities given limited resources. Tea party conservatives have brought anti-tax pledges to statehouses and lawmakers are encouraged to sign, imperiling votes to raise taxes to pay for public projects, particularly projects that could take years or even decades.

Michigan legislators last fall approved a $1.2 billion road-funding package after years of work and stalemates, largely over how much new revenue should be included. Some industry experts now look to examples of innovative solutions being tried in other states, such as fees tied to vehicle miles traveled and high-occupancy toll lanes, which can reduce traffic and wear and tear on roads.

“We had to let our roads literally crumble before we were willing to address some sort of funding increase,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, which represents road and underground contractors, and a member of Snyder’s task force.

“It takes a Flint situation before folks are willing to wake up and talk about really making the investment necessary to improve our infrastructure because they don’t want it to happen to them,” he added. “That’s been that way for a long time, where no one likes taxes, and they’re only willing to accept them once we’ve … dissolved all other possibilities.”

Ignoring a crumbling state

In 2009, the Michigan section of the ASCE released its first infrastructure report. The volunteer team, made up of professional engineers in both the private and public sectors, reviewed the state’s aviation program; dams; drinking water, storm and wastewater systems; energy; harbors and locks; roads and bridges; and transit.

The state’s infrastructure systems were ranked mediocre to poor, with an overall letter grade of D. The data are now 7 years old, though they illustrate numerous challenges:

  • Aviation: Michigan will need to come up with more than $1.3 billion over five years to meet airport infrastructure needs.
  • Dams: More than nine in 10 of Michigan’s 2,581 dams will meet their 50-year design life by 2020.
  • Harbors and locks: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2008 projected funding needs of more than $16 million for Michigan’s harbors, $35 million for annual river maintenance and nearly $2.5 million per year for upkeep of the Soo Locks.
  • Stormwater systems: No statewide management or inventory of Michigan stormwater systems exists, though the state and counties manage roughly 18,000 county drains. Systems without pumps or other mechanical operating devices often receive little attention, the group said, adding: “Consequently, in an operational sense, much of the storm drainage system is ignored until it fails.”

Michigan has improved slightly since then, said Chuck Hookham, a professional engineer who has sat on ASCE’s board of directors and helped write the 2009 report.

The society’s 2017 update should include more recommended solutions, Hookham said. The state has new challenges to contend with, he said, including development of another bridge to Canada, the ongoing controversy over an Enbridge Inc.-owned pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac and needed upgrades to the Soo Locks.

“You can call something a D forever and if nothing happens, that’s, I don’t think, beneficial to anyone,” Hookham said. “If we can show how we can change grades, I think that’s more appropriate.”

Michigan’s ability to improve its standing will depend in large part on how it addresses two major infrastructure systems ‒ roads and bridges, and drinking water.

In an April 2015 report, The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization that focuses on surface transportation, cited data from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council showing that more Michigan roads are in poor condition ‒ 38 percent in 2014, up from 23 percent in 2006.

That figure is expected to climb to 53 percent by 2025 if funding levels stay the same, the report showed.
Bridge conditions aren’t much better, the TRIP report said. A full 12 percent of local- and state-maintained bridges were structurally deficient in 2014, meaning a bridge has major deterioration of the deck or structures. Another 16 percent are functionally obsolete and don’t meet current design standards.

If funding doesn’t change, 14 percent of Michigan’s bridges will be considered structurally deficient by 2023, according to TRIP.

The road-funding package Snyder signed last fall includes roughly $600 million in new revenue from higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, with the other half to be diverted from existing spending. The package includes the first fuel tax hike since 1997 and links it to inflation, but was criticized by advocates for more infrastructure funding because it won’t be fully phased in until 2021.

The package included a new Roads Innovation Fund, a lockbox of sorts that would set aside $100 million of the new roads revenue per year until the Legislature votes to release it. The Michigan Department of Transportation is required to look for new materials or processes to build roads that could cut half the cost of building to a 50-year life span ‒ even if those materials and processes cost more up front ‒ and have no roads in poor condition within 10 years.

MDOT typically builds roads that can last at least 30 years with routine maintenance, though many roads outlive that life expectancy, spokesman Jeff Cranson said.

The department estimated it would cost the state between $11 billion and $14 billion more per year for a decade to build roads that could last for 50 to 75 years, depending on the life span desired. The caveat: Spending $11 billion more annually on roads that last for 50 years would require a fuel tax of $1.70 per gallon, MDOT said.

And in April, the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association released a report by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants Inc., (of which The Center for Michigan, which operates Bridge Magazine, is a client) that showed an average of $447 million per year was spent on the state’s drinking water systems from 2004 to 2013.

The report suggests that to meet federal drinking water standards and ensure water is clean and safe, Michigan will need to spend between $731 million and $1 billion annually through 2030. The figures don’t reflect the Flint crisis.

“Flint isn’t the only place with aging water infrastructure and sewer infrastructure,” said Charles Ballard, an economist at Michigan State University.

“It’s a long-term challenge,” Ballard said. “I think the public understands that it’s a priority. But we saw from the roads situation last year that just because people want to do something, doesn’t mean that we have the political will to do very much.”

Finding the political will

For 20 years, the fraction of respondents who believed infrastructure was the state’s most urgent policy priority hovered around zero in MSU’s State of the State surveys. This year, 32.5 percent of survey respondents chose infrastructure. Only in the past few years did infrastructure become a separate survey choice, rather than being lumped into the “other” category.

Ballard attributes part of the public’s growing concern to Flint.

“Whether that will translate into better policies is not at all clear,” he said. “We didn’t ask, ‘OK, if that’s your top priority, are you willing to devote tax revenues to it?’ And I suspect at least some folks say that it’s a high priority, but that that would not translate into spending money on it. And if you don’t spend money on it, it won’t get fixed.”

It’s difficult to get a specific dollar figure for Michigan’s total spending on infrastructure.

Ballard, however, has calculated state and local taxes in Michigan as a share of personal income dating back to 1972. His analysis, citing census and other federal data, shows that Michigan residents paid about 9.5 percent of their personal income in taxes in 2012, down from more than 13 percent in the 1970s.

That’s not entirely due to tax rate cuts, he said, adding that the decline also is the result of erosion of the local and state tax base. The impact is magnified when combined with Michigan’s flat fuel tax, which has lost buying power over time, and property tax limits that don’t allow assessments to rise faster than inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less, and thus restrict how much revenue municipalities can bring in.

Michigan’s new road-funding laws raise the state’s 19-cent regular gasoline and 15-cent diesel fuel taxes to 26.3 cents per gallon starting in 2017, then link them to inflation.

But that increase won’t immediately erase years of tax cuts, Ballard said — a problem he said has worsened since the introduction of the “no-tax pledges” pitched to lawmakers.

“As long as we continue to send folks like that to the Legislature, that makes it challenging to deal with issues like this, because I just don’t see how we can fix the roads and the sewers and the water system for free,” Ballard said.

“What was important was cutting taxes, not dealing with those issues.”

Cities shortchanged

Lawmakers also have cut statutory revenue sharing to Michigan cities, which exacerbated local budget challenges particularly during the recession. A report released last week by Eaton Rapids-based Great Lakes Economic Consulting LLC ‒ run by Mitch Bean, a former director of the state’s House Fiscal Agency, and former state Treasurer Robert Kleine ‒ estimated municipalities cumulatively have lost more than $5.5 billion since 1998.

A House Republican leader paints a different scenario.

Aside from roads, “we've been able to increase local revenue sharing over each of the past five years, which goes a long way to help many of those issues,” said Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, (R-Mt.-Pleasant).

D’Assandro would not comment directly on how Cotter views the state’s role in funding infrastructure repairs, including Cotter’s thoughts about Snyder’s proposed statewide infrastructure fund, other than to say the legislature continues to work on the issue during budget talks.

Less money in the coffers leads to difficult decisions about services. For instance, the desire to cut costs is one factor in the Flint water emergency.

“The amount of money that was saved by … switching over to the Flint River looks to be tiny compared to what it will cost in terms of litigation and remediation,” Ballard said. “I don’t think the state will be able to walk away, assuming that there are children who suffer some long-term damage from being exposed to a neurotoxin. That’s going to cost money.”


Several engineers and industry experts said user fees would be one way to solve Michigan’s underfunding problem. They could take the form of higher water rates, local millage requests or fuel tax increases.

Paying little or nothing now means paying a lot more later. TRIP, in its report, estimated that preventive road maintenance to keep roads in good condition would cost $85,000 per lane mile, compared with $1.6 million per lane mile for roads in poor condition that need to be rebuilt.

Updating all of Michigan’s roads to good condition would cost the state $14.1 billion, TRIP estimated.

The ballooning impact of delayed maintenance isn’t limited to roads. In 2009, ASCE recommended a 3-cent increase to Michigan’s current 3-cent-per-gallon aviation fuel tax, which hasn’t gone up since 1929, and encouraged the creation of a dedicated dam repair fund seeded with at least $50 million.

MDOT engineers are looking at ways to build longer-lasting roads. And the department will install the state’s first high-occupancy vehicle lanes when it rebuilds I-75 in metro Detroit, which are intended to reduce congestion by allowing vehicles with two or more passengers to use dedicated travel lanes during peak hours.

Motorists won’t have to pay tolls to use the lanes, though, and MDOT couldn’t charge them without first changing state law.

Pallasch, of ASCE, said high-occupancy toll lanes and fees charged per vehicle mile traveled ‒ the latter of which has been piloted in Oregon ‒ would shift costs to road users.

“We’re not setting aside enough resources to do it,” he said. “States and local governments and the federal government, frankly, they triage stuff. They do the best they can and they’re spending the limited resources they have in the best manner possible. And that means that not everything’s going to get done to the way the engineer or the (Department of Public Works) or the state (Department of Transportation) would like it to be done.

“Elected officials need to understand,” he added, “that not investing is really not an option.”

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Thu, 06/02/2016 - 8:25am
Yes Michigan has a flat and I'll grant fairly low fuel tax, but in typical Bridge article fashsion, this neglects to mention that Michigan is one of few states that also charge sales tax on fuel purchases that is diverted off to nothing to do with our roads and gives Michigan amounst the highest taxes per gallon of fuel purchased in the country. As far as cities being "short changed", we need to clarify whether cities are founts of progress, dynamism and prosperity (as I've seen claimed here) and then should be able to support themselves(?). Or cities are a perpetual welfare case money pits that the outstate residents should be expected to shovel funds into? In this constant debate about revenue sharing it would be nice to clarify expectations.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 10:05am
I am saddened by your response Matt. The problems MIchigan are dealing with today are so deep and broad resulting from simplistic, partisan, and racist solutions. It is this attitude that will keep Michigan at the bottom of the list for anything good, and the top of the list for anything bad!!
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 12:16pm
Bernadette, vague characterizations of "simplistic, partisan, and racist solutions" of policies that you disagree with are hard to address, could you try to be more specific? Thanks.
Fri, 06/03/2016 - 9:27am
Your statement included an idea that allowed for a subjective or objective classification of which cities would be considered over others. I believe her comment was indicative of a mistrust for those types of decisions - and, it is a viable concern based on the history of US politics.
Robert Kleine
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 10:09am
The cities could support themselves if the state did not impose so many restrictions on their revenue raising ability. Only two other states have such severe restrictions. The original deal was that because of all the restrictions the state would provide a robust revenue sharing program. But everyone seems to have forgotten that. We have more cities under fiscal stress than any other state. I don't believe that is because our city officials are worse than in other states.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 12:34pm
Robert, in theory and in general. I can't see an argument against allowing cities to tax themselves and provide services to what ever extent their voters will stand. But the experience in a large number of cities has been seemingly to chase more affluent residents out of these same communities leaving islands of deep poverty and even more clamoring for state aid. If we take the state tax payers off the hook, I say go crazy. I'm always in favor of a good experiment!
Dennis Murphy
Tue, 06/07/2016 - 12:38pm
This situation was not created in a vacuum. People forget that it was suburban and rural citizens and their municipal governments that bear part of the responsibility. If you complain about jobs and businesses moving to China due to lower cost- how is that much different except in scale from business relocating from cities to the suburbs and townships where local govts there, with low tax base and lower infrastructure costs simply gave away land for free basically? If these townships and suburbs weren't cannibalizing the tax base of the cities, they would still have the revenu. Instead, rural areas set up "industrial parks" offering free or low taxes to draw businesses away from the urban areas, we don't have decent mass transit so anyone without a car cannot even get to these newly relocated jobs. And the suburbanites now whine about having to perhaps pay to support the very cities they undercut
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 9:06pm
Michigan law permits cities (but not townships and villages) to levy income taxes, but only 22 have chosen to do so. I'm curious about how many cities crying poverty have raised their income tax rate or instituted an income tax. And it would be interesting to explore the relationship between taxable property value per capita and degree of fiscal distress. The push to increase revenue sharing may be an attempt to transfer wealth from prospering, growing cities to those who are not. I wonder if such a policy would be in the long term interest of the state as a whole. It would amount to subsidizing failing communities at the expense of successful ones.
Dennis Murphy
Tue, 06/07/2016 - 12:44pm
See my post above- When I ran for a city commission seat in Muskegon in 1988, it was an eye opener with regard to revenue. The state law maxed millage at 22mills. So between schools and the city govts, the citizens could not be assessed more than 22. But millage rate is dependent upon property values. Homes in the cities are often smaller and older and cheaper. So income from the rates are low. Suburban areas have ensured HIGH home values by mandating through zoning X-size lots and X-size minimums for housing built in their area Consequently, Norton Shores could assess citizens 12 mills and garner more than TWICE the money from that millage assessment on six figure homes than the City of Muskegon or Muskegon Hts who were maxed out on their 22 mills on the many low-five-figure homes Pair that with higher level OF infrastructure in the city(ies) which are often the seat of county government and supporting more than just city operations.. and you have financial distress built into the process
David L Richards
Sun, 06/05/2016 - 2:26pm
Matt, first, you need to understand that municipalities are "creatures of the state", and not simply separate individual entities. In addition, it has been recognized, perhaps since the State of Michigan was formed, but at least many decades, that some portion of municipal revenues should come down from the state for the reason that the major source of municipal revenue has been the property tax, and the availability of taxable property varies widely throughout the state. Think of Dearborn, with the Ford Rouge Plant, or Bloomfield Hills, with average home values being far beyond other communities throughout the state. Similarly with income taxes, in some high income jobs are numerous, and in other areas, they are not. In the case of maintenance of local roads, that is something that benefits all travelers, not just those living in areas where roads are maintained (or not maintained, because of budgetary considerations). Regardless of the public policy reasons for state revenues going to municipalities, it has long been the customary practice for significant support of cities to come from the state. But in recent decades the state has attempted to either balance its budget by discontinuing that support, or, in trying to look like heroes to anti-tax people, has reduced the sources of income of municipalities knowing it won't affect the state budget, and they can take credit for cutting taxes even though the burden is simply transferred to the locals.
David Waymire
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 9:54am
Aside from roads, “we’ve been able to increase local revenue sharing over each of the past five years, which goes a long way to help many of those issues,” said Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter. These increases have been minuscule following the past cuts. We are still far below 2000 levels, and this year's budget doesn't help. Learn more at savemicity.org.
Fri, 06/03/2016 - 8:06am
Dave What is wrong with the concept of gettting cities to pay for the services that they elect to offer? Many small towns and large cities accross the country operate under this "burden". My belief is that the state should spend it's tax dollars on narrowly defined state functions, a tremendous amount of state and federal funding still flows into the city any way you want to restrict it. Taking funds from outstate citizens to give to big city pols is not only immoral but ultimately dangerous and unstable for the cities. As the DNR says don't feed wild animals as it causes dependence.
Dennis Murphy
Tue, 06/07/2016 - 12:47pm
The "outstate" municipal entities already "took" from the cities- see my post above about cannibalizing jobs and industry. Time for the townships and counties to give back some
Imants Minka
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 9:55am
Aaaargh! Why is it us versus them, that is urban v out-state--why this short sighted mentality? This state has urban, suburban and rural areas. Infrastructure needs do not follow political boundaries they are function of what it takes to maintain those man made features that allow our civilization to function in different parts of the state.Urban needs are necessarily different from the needs of those folks in northern Michigan or the upper peninsula. We need roads, bridges, water, sewers, harbor facilities, the Soo Locks and airports. Why cannot our legislators and elected governmental leaders sit down with the experts and determine what is needed, what it will cost and then come up with a plan to most cost efficiently fund the needed infrastructure work over the long term with 5, 10 and 20 year and longer plans as are appropriate. If the state does not have sufficient revenues then taxes must be raised on individuals and business with the recognition any tax increase must be borne more by those that can afford it. This is about what is pragmatic and cost effective in the long run. This about us as State!!
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 11:15am
The major portion of the cost of maintaining our roads and bridges should be shouldered by the people who receive the greatest benefit . All business decided a few decades ago that shipping by truck was a better way than by rail to reduce warehousing and for faster delivery . This has resulted in a hundred or even thousand fold increase in heavy trucking on Michigan's roads . It was the same short sighted business decision as the one GM made in Detroit nearly a century ago when it bought all of the trolley systems in the city and surrounding areas then closed them to increase their sales of buses and cars . City transportation has not been the same since . We are now faced with ever increasing heavy trucking which contributes greatly to the where and tear on our roads and bridges . That is where the greater revenue should come from for road repair and bridge maintenance . The working people have continually been forced by this administration to bear the cost of business through increased taxes while businesses receive tax reductions . This has done little to increase job production in Michigan and reduced state revenue to the point of a crumbling infrastructure sub par educational system .
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 12:56pm
Sounds like a perfect argument for toll rolls and bridges. Easy Pass System works great without the backups and hassle.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 6:25pm
Matt...that would still put the bulk of paying for roads and bridges on working people who have to use those roads and bridges every day . How does that put a greater demand on business who demand heavy trucking over railroads to keep infrastructure maintained ?
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 7:33pm
For starters trucks can be and are charged a substantially higher rate than passenger cars, which clearly rolls down to the businesses who use their services and for that matter eventually to the "working people" who buy any of their products.in the form of ultimately higher prices. Yah, economics is a bugger! The question I have is are we trying to pay for maintainence by charging users according to their use of the resource (roads etc) or create another social welfare scheme? I thought it was the former.
Fri, 06/03/2016 - 9:29am
What would be imbalanced or inappropriate about passing a portion of the cost on to the people that use the roads the most?
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 10:06am
The legislature is more interested in passing helmet laws and raising the speed limit that dealing with this problem. Kind of ironic, there solution to the bad roads and bad bridges is to drive faster without a helmet. I can only imagine what is next. Legalize marijuana so you don't care or feel the bumps. Cutback the number of state troupers,doesn't irritate their voters with tickets. Also this saves money, maybe fund another tax cut.
Fri, 06/03/2016 - 7:19am
The legislature is pretty interested in giving corporate welfare also.
Sun, 06/05/2016 - 11:01am
This does summarize the extent of the problem. Dealing strictly with outcomes, how much money was ultimately saved by the 'cheaper' option of changing the source of the Flint water supply to the Flint river? Looks like a negative result to me. The current legislature is cutting funds to education and infrastructure, but hopes that such policies as limiting single-party voting will keep them in their seats so that they can continue these policies.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 10:10am
The GOP has simply been cutting infrastructure monies and then taking the money and giving it to the wealthy and corporations (to 'create jobs') and then when the infrastructure fails then raise taxes on the 'little people' (often by extortion - 'unless you give up more of your money we can't fix the roads'). Simple - 'rinse and repeat' for years.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 12:00pm
Sir, This is not a GOP problem. It is not a Democrat problem. It is an everyone problem. It has been for a long time. Note that during the time period discussed we have had multiple governors from both major parties, and the problems continued to be ignored. Legislators from both parties are too busy giving people what they want rather than focusing on what they need. I want lower total expense, not lower taxes. Reducing the taxes that support maintaining infrastructure may, in the long run, be more expensive if it means I need to pay for repairs to my car due to bad roads. Hitting a pothole, taking a longer route, poorly designed (or poorly maintained) intersections all have a cost that increases if the problems are not fixed. For too long, the public has demanded that their elected officials, from school board member up to President, give them candy. Until we stop blaming one party or the other, cities versus rural, etc., the problems are not going to be addressed. I'd like to see some estimates on how many jobs all this infrastructure work would create. Investing billions of dollars on public projects is a far more productive use of government effort than handing out money. Road workers, bridge builders, civil/electrical/industrial/mechanical engineers. Those are all good jobs that contribute to economic health and growth. And anyone can be properly trained or educated to fit into at least one of those job categories.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 10:15am
Is the state budget info available to the public? I'm assuming it is. I just don't understand where the money is being spent, since the important things the public needs like roads etc, have been neglected for a long time. I know those meetings in Macinaw Island are expensive, and our overworked legislators need to be pampered once in awhile, but the money must be going somewhere. Sure can't see where.
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 11:19am
Over worked legislators !!? Since when ?
Barry Visel
Thu, 06/02/2016 - 8:57pm
Water, sewer, storm sewer and local streets are mostly local infrastructure systems, and should not be included in a state-level discussion. Locals can raise user rates, apply special assessments, raise taxes through voter approved initiatives, and similar means to fund these systems, so let's please stop thinking about them as the State's problem. (If the State and Feds would stop giving our money away in the form of grants, perhaps locals would think twice before building systems they fail to fully fund when the replacement cost eventually raises its' ugly head). We fail to collect over $30 Billion dollars each year due to tax incentives, tax deductions and tax credits (it's all listed in the State Budget Appendix on Tax Expenditures). Until this redistribution of wealth is eliminated, there can be no argument that we don't have enough money to solve our infrastructure problems. Question for City advocates...Why does the concept of "economies of scale" not seem to work in city government? Because if it did, I would expect cities to have the best infrastructure at the lowest tax rate...but that doesn't seem to be the case. I'm kind of tired of all these Bridge articles basically saying we have problems and we need more tax dollars to solve them. So, let's say I pay more tax dollars to replace that dam that had a 50-year life expectancy...what guarantee do I have that money will be available 50 years from now when it will need to be replaced again?...I'm guessing no guarantee...and that's the problem! Same with a 30, 50 or 75 year road. This is a merry-go-round with no end, and none of these articles address this problem...we just keep adding to the legacy costs and passing them along to the next generation. Sorry to rant, but I can't shake the feeling that this discussion is much more complicated than "we have problems and we need more money to fix them".
Sovereign Mary
Fri, 06/03/2016 - 1:14pm
Why in the devil should we be laid and burdened with more than a $1billion + in taxation for buses when our Michigan roads still remain in such abysmal and abhorrent conditions?
Joe Lapointe
Sat, 06/04/2016 - 8:59pm
Decay is a gradual thing. Day to day, you don't notice it. People in Michigan have gotten used it and consider it normal. The state has not touched bottom yet, but it well. Maybe then, people will realize the problems.
Richard Cole
Sun, 06/05/2016 - 8:35pm
I recently bumped into an old friend who does his best to represent the construction industry in Michigan and he said he was offended by my suggestion that the "dirt road lobby" is running Michigan's Capitol. He took offense to that comment mistakenly under the impression that I was talking about the folks who are in the business of building our state's infrastructure. I'm glad I ran into him because that was exactly the opposite of my point. The unfortunate reality is that the "free lunch bunch" in Lansing thinks we can cut our way to prosperity -- or maybe not. Maybe they don't care about prosperity at all. What they really want to do is change the name of our state from Michigan to Michissippi. Another unfortunate reality is that Mississippi, the butt of jokes for years, is actually doing better than we are in leaving their children a state they can be proud in.
Bob Short
Thu, 06/09/2016 - 11:04am
Does anyone remember when in the early 60;s Michigan's gas tax went from being a separate fund and was put into the general fund? Michigan, until then use to be rated as #1 or #2 in the nation for having the best roads, new and well maintained. I've tried looking it up and have asked a couple of newspaper writers-no success. Gas taxes in the general fund is like throwing a bucket of water into one of the Great Lakes-it's in there somewhere just try and get it out. Also, why is much of the gas tax going for things other than roads? Education for one. Like lottery money! Substitute money!