Opinion | Michigan needs to decide what kind of state it wants to be

Charlie Mahoney is chair of the Michigan Works! Association Board of Directors and owner of FourM Associates in Livonia

Michigan is at a crossroads.

That’s a phrase we’ve heard many times over the decades, as politicians work to drive their agendas for change. The “crossroads” metaphor is meant to add urgency and drive change — but it’s been used a lot. Like the villagers who were weary of listening to the boy who cried wolf, many Michigan voters think these so-called “crossroads” are little more than a public relations ploy.

Unfortunately, our state now has a very real wolf at the door, a very real point of intersection between past efforts and the future needs of Michigan. Perhaps the ultimate stroke of irony is that this crossroads is partially related to, well, roads. Will Michigan adequately fund roads and bridges, making it possible for our infrastructure to keep pace with those of other states and nations? That is what most people see as the choice to be made. For many state residents, this crossroads involves a tax increase, an investment, and a better way to prioritize.

But from where I sit, there’s an even more important crossroads to consider. Roads and bridges are only one piece of Michigan’s most important choices today. The larger question, the one we are only beginning to grapple with, is this: what kind of state are we going to be?

In her recent budget proposal, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shared plans to invest in two areas that we at Michigan Works!, believe are critical to our success - infrastructure and workforce development. We are supportive of plans to invest in these key areas, investments that will benefit all Michiganders.

As the state’s talent development partner, Michigan Works! proudly connects residents with career resources and helps businesses train their workforce. Those efforts can only work if Michigan is a great place to live, work and raise a family.

For most of us who call Michigan home, there are lots of reasons to live here. But we’re a state that needs to keep growing, re-skilling our workforce, attracting new residents, jobs, and business opportunities. On our present trajectory, we’re not doing those things well enough.  

Let me put it another way. If low costs remain the only priority, we’ll fail to invest in what is really needed for growth. Things like prioritizing resources for K-12 education to include career pathways and certificate programs, supporting business growth through apprenticeships and training resources and, of course, good roads. Without focusing on these investments, we will strangle our economy by depriving it of resources needed to maintain a skilled and talented workforce for our businesses and for our economic growth as state.

This is the crossroads Michigan now faces. We need to decide what kind of state we’re going to be. Do we believe in ourselves and the promise of a bright future? Or are we going to keep doing what we’ve always done, and getting the same results we’ve always gotten?

Investing in both workforce development and infrastructure is critical to Michigan’s success. The Michigan Works! system appreciates Gov. Whitmer making both of these areas a priority.

Michigan’s future growth depends on safe infrastructure, providing career resources and training for our local talent, as well as attracting new business and talent.  Investment to get our roads into better condition and in a re-skilled and up-skilled workforce are the building blocks that allow Michigan Works! to take its talent development efforts to the next level. It’s time to be bold and leave these tired crossroads behind. Let’s choose the right path — a path toward prosperity, opportunity and a better future for all.

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Richard E. Henderson
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 8:48am

Speaking for those of us on a fixed income. Government needs to deal with the waste of our tax dollars first before it comes to us with it's hand out for more money. It's funny how the governor throws out a average price for car repairs per year because of bad roads. I worked in Troy for almost 30 years and commuted from north Oakland county all that time and never spent a red cent on car repair do to the roads. That's 48 miles a day 6 days a week. Where does she come up with these figures?

Earl Newman
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:04am

Nice story. Your response illustrates an attitude that is too pervasive in our state. We are too prone to measure every circumstance by our own experience.You are lucky to have escaped without spending a red cent. You should tell your story to the young man, also an Oakland County resident I spoke to last week who had to face a 2000 dollar repair bill on his front suspension after hitting a pothole. Just because it didn't happen to you doesn't mean it isn't happening. I too live on a fixed income but I will not use that as an excuse for favoring a neglectful policy. Our state needs fixing in many areas, and yes, it will cost money.

David jr.
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 8:19am

Excellent! If he had 30yrs of driving in Michigan his car suffered damage. Our roads horrible condition is well documented. This underfunding started with the engler administration and has continued to now. Hard choices will have to be made. The way construction by way of cheap patchwork has failed us.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:08am

The waste of our tax dollars in the past ten years is on legal fees to protect those Republicans who have devastated this state with their corruption. Gerrymandering , the Flint water crisis, poverty, the steepest decline in education ever seen in MI. If you are a senior, as I am, you should be very worried about who will care for you when you need it in your aging years because there will not be a workforce to do it.

MI does need to decide what kind of state it wants to be. I am tired of being at the bottom of the pack in all quality of life issues.

Peter Coomar
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 7:43pm

No one to take care of old age issues. You gave your best years to the state and system and now you are on your own. Why is this a surprise. US population has risen from 150 million to 300 million in 30 years plus I have been here. It is logical resources be strained and lack of plan or purpose and politicking for votes from time to time is not helping.

Marlene Lott
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 5:53am

I too drive 48 miles one way to work, my husband 35 and neither of us has had to have car repairs because of the roads. That's over 20 years of this drive. And those of us up North will pay a hell of a lot more than $600 a year if her gas tax is approved but the money will ALL GO DOWN STATE as she has said. Those people down there should make them toll roads as they're always under construction. And everyone is on a fixed income, my check is the same every payperiod

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 1:05pm

I as well but of course we are all liars....Smh....

Michael Jay
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 3:13am

I think, Richard, that your reluctance to accept more taxes are quite valid and your arguments are legitimate. The question is not about the quality and state of our roads, I believe that most of us are in agreement that our roads and infrastructure are in a pathetic state of decay and must be addressed.

The debate is if we can trust our government to competently provide effective improvements in our infrastructure. I believe the funding can be found whithin the confine of our current tax regulations.

On the topic of repairing our pathetic public education infrastructure, I am unwilling to support any action that involves the ratification of our State Constitution that allocates power to public officials that are not elected though a democratic process.

Paul Wohlfarth
Sun, 06/16/2019 - 7:13am

It’s been a rapid race to become a Red State with Republican control. We know what happens in red states with right to work and low pay jobs. The burden has shifted to the paycheck crowd and away from corporations. Roads, schools, pensions, wages all suffer in red states.

Thor of the North
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 9:16am

The only time the ENTIRE state of Michigan is noticed is when people are running for office. Then the US Senators show up, Sect'y of State, AG etc.... All of the tax money is used in the greater Dumptroit, Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids areas but the northerners sure pay for it.
Time to create the State of Superior
One last thing.....Michigan Works is a joke! Especially in Cheboygan if you can get the workers here off their phones long enough to notice people are there and Soo they give incomplete info but don't worry that place seems to have a rapid turnover rate

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:16am

I find your comment very personal. I am sorry for your experience, but Cheboygan does not drive the economy of Michigan. You chose to live in Cheboygan, one of the most beautiful places in MI and you chose who to hire. When did you get so cynical and selfish? Just curious?

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:16am

I find your comment very personal. I am sorry for your experience, but Cheboygan does not drive the economy of Michigan. You chose to live in Cheboygan, one of the most beautiful places in MI and you chose who to hire. When did you get so cynical and selfish? Just curious?

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 11:38am

I agree where do you want the split? How about another on north and south?

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 9:25am

It has been my experience that throwing money at a problem is unlikely to result in a good solution. The two solutions that usually work better are: 1) find a more efficient way or 2) better technology. One suggestion in this regard would be to look at what Germany and Japan do about roads and bridges. From what I have observed they get a project done very quickly and use high tech solutions to achieve that. We have been rebuilding a bridge in Midland, MI for going on two years. Half of the time we see no activity. They have several cranes on site that rent for $1,000 a day or more yet are seldom in use. I observed in Tokyo that they come in at maybe 8 PM, remove a section of road and have it replaced in time for use the next morning at 6 AM. In addition to cost, the Michigan way maximizes the inconvenience for our residents and our visitors. There has to be a better way.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 9:32am

No truly thoughtful Michigander could argue with any of this. If we want to put and keep our state on a pathway to excellence (and realize the promise of better lives for our citizens), we have to properly resource it for the long term. Time's a-wastin'.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 9:37am

No one, who has given reasonable thought, would not agree with the importance of education and infrastructure. The question is more about the leaders, their ideas and actions. We need a state government focused on being excellent stewards of the limited resources. Spending more should not be the go to solution. Leadership matters!

Paul Jordan
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:12am

Remember this quote from Grover Norquist, Jr.? "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." (As it happens, he first said that about 25 years ago.)
The situation we have in Michigan is not accidental--it is the result of a concerted effort over time by the anti-tax, anti-government Republicans who have been effectively in charge of Michigan's government since the election of John Engler. (It is also the result of the sort of short-sighted self-interest displayed in these comments by a number of commentators on this article.) They have run a con job on us for decades by acting as if they can cut taxes without eroding public services. They have acted as if they had Rumpelstiltskin socked away somewhere in the basement of the capital, spinning straw into gold--and a lot of us apparently believed them.
The wealthy are the primary beneficiaries of the tax cuts that Norquist has championed (and the Republicans have delivered) because they are not dependent for their families' well-being and comfort on public amenities.
Once upon a time, we were among the best states in the nation in which to live and raise families. We are now compete with states like Mississippi for being at the bottom as far as schools and other public amenities are concerned.
If we want to live in a better state, have better schools (again), and drive on better roads (again) we're going to have to pay more in taxes, while ensuring that we are getting what we pay for.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 8:09pm

Michigan used to build good roads but our specifications are not delivering roads that last 5 years. I don't think they know why. Concrete specs suck. Construction should follow CRITICAL PATH instead of being a parking lot for huge construction equipment for most of the summer. If the roads won't last 5 years, Get a black top continuous recycle machine and replace the top 2 inches every 5 years. Now we are wasting money on roads that don't last. Maybe we need to replace the engineers and executives.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:12am

Thank you for this informative column. I agree with you, MI does need to decide who we want to be as a state. The Republicans stole our right to representation by gerrymandering, and with their arrogant and corrupted policies have taken us right to the bottom of the states in all quality of life issues.

All of our children have left the state for opportunities in growing states. When you analyze the statistics you see how devastating the last ten years has been. Whitmer needs the support to do what needs to be done, instead of letting this "illegal" legislature continue to do their worst.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 5:06pm

I wonder if Bernadette remembers Proposition One that gave Michigan voters the opportunity to raise substantial sums of money for infrastructure and education and increase the Earned Income tax credit among other things. It lost four to one. Were all those no votes cast by Republicans?

Arnold W.
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:36am

We all know what kind of state we want to be. The problem is that people have been convinced they don't need to pay for it.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 12:42pm

Thank you for this thoughtful article.

Alison Swan
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 12:55pm

I read this opinion piece eagerly, but realized quickly that it traverses familiar ground, albeit articulately. I believe the choice is this: are we going to pursue a future organized around automobiles or are we going to pursue a future organized around human beings and other living things? I believe that only the latter course has long-term viability.

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 3:10pm

All the comments made are reasonable and thoughtful. Charles made good points about road construction. We need to research how other countries can operate so efficiently. There's no reason we can't. And, we are going to have to pay for infrastructure. The difficulty is we taxpayers don't trust our elected officials - with good reason - a tax is instituted for a specific reason...and...then we find out the small print more dollars around. I think back to the lottery when dollars were to help schools. So, our legislatures need to be transparent. Will that happen?

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 7:57pm

I wonder what office Ms. Mahoney is running for next election, this article sound like all of those politicians she describes using ‘crossroads’ in a campaign speech.
A crossroads is when there is an identified event or tipping point. Ms. Mahoney fails to describe what that tipping point is and when it will happen. Her diatribe is nothing more than what she denigrated in her articles opening, the use of ‘crossroads’ as an overworked campaign claim. Her agenda has all the appearance of trying to elevate the visibility and justification of ‘Michigan Works!’
Michigan has a definite need for a larger and homegrown knowledge and skill based work force. The failing of Ms. Mahoney is that she doesn’t describe what needs to be done and how it can be done. She talks about investing in more training but she ignores the role of the workers in that training. She talks about the infrastructure but she doesn’t describe how it will impact Michigan’s future or how to ensure that it is maintained [she suggests that without the maintenance it will cripple out future].
What Michigan needs is someone who stops looking backwards and complaining about the past, someone who is describing the future, moving us to be part of the knowledge and skill economy of our future, about the infrastructure that will be needed and what we individually can be doing to be part of it. We need a leader talking about tangible things we can do, not asking for more money to pay others to do what they have been failing at.
Ms. Mahoney sounds just like those politicians she blames of our approaching failures.

Allan Blackburn
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 1:15am

And I am sure from your critique that you will be able to do much better. Please submit your plan post haste.

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 3:36pm


I would not hold my breath for solutions from Duane. For as long as I have been reading Bridge, he is one of those "complainers" with inadequate knowledge and lots to say, but not solutions.

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 7:09pm

You tell me what results you want, be as specific as possible. Do you want better paying jobs, do you want a better educated work force, do want more manufacturing jobs [why the new economy is service dominate ~70%], do you want better roads [why does it matter to the internet]. Because that is the first requirement to developing a workable plan/strategy is to know where you are going.
When was the last time you took a trip, did you have a destination in mind before you started packing and deciding how you would get their. Ms. Mahoney has no clue where she believes Michigan should be in the future, only that we need more of what we have been doing.

I will offer a plan when you tell me where we are going, or I can offer where we need to be going and why, then we can talk about the plan to get their your choice, or you can be like Bernadette and sit in the cheap seats and simply throw the proverbial 'popcorn' rather then get into the conversation. Again you choice.
I hope you choose well and come armed since I like being challenge, I look forward to being made to think.

Marlene Lott
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 5:49am

All of which requires more money because politicians refuse to a art at 0 based budgeting and cut the waste. When local governments get grants to paint people's houses with taxpayer money the State is WASTING billions that could go to roads. Why has the DNR had a 55% increase in it's budget? It hasn't raised that 55% in additional revenue.

Barry Visel
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 10:41am

For those who asked for a plan, here’s mine. Based on numbers published in our State Budget and Dept of Treasury, we could reduce our sales tax rate to 4% but add services to the sales tax base. This would generate enough revenue to pay for the rate reduction, provide $2.5 billion for roads, provide an additional $1 billion for education/workforce, and enough left over to eliminate business taxes. This would avoid a regressive gas tax raise, would reduce a regressive sales tax, would fix the roads and aide education, and make our State the most business-friendly in the nation. I would appreciate feedback.

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 11:44am

Make it on everything and lower it to 3% across the board! 3% is so insignificant that people can adjust retailers and brands and save more than that. Would take away the some of the incentive to buy on line too and even out taxes during slow downs.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 4:52pm

It is certainly the case that eliminating business taxes would make Michigan the most business friendly state in the nation, and that would be a plus in terms of honesty and transparency, given that business does not pay taxes, but passes their costs on to consumers, employees, and investors. But if cutting the sales tax rate to four percent and adding services to the tax base would indeed generate enough additional revenue to do all that Mr. Visel claims, that necessarily means that the taxpayers of Michigan would, on a net basis, be paying substantially more in taxes. I am not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, but it should be made clear that that would be the case.

middle of the mit
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 8:22pm

Given what we know of what has happened with the State cuts and the Federal cuts? Should we be like Kansas?

" This would avoid a regressive gas tax raise, would reduce a regressive sales tax, would fix the roads and aide education, and make our State the most business-friendly in the nation."

If sales and gas taxes are regressive, what is cutting taxes on businesses, again and making those same people make up the money with a sales AND service tax?
Republicans, gov't of the rich paid for by the lower and middle class.

Kansas here we come!

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 6:10pm

What state has a booming economy and 3 of 4 top job growth cities in the country? Texas: Dallas, Houston, & Austin.
Why is that? No State Income Tax. Beautiful roads paid for through tolls. No Unionized Labor. Cheaper Cost of Living.
Find out what States are doing it right and repeat their processes instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.


Thu, 06/13/2019 - 12:28pm

Not a problem lets pollute the great lakes and the atmosphere like the texans.