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Michigan Legislation passes the buck to voters on the roads

Jack Lessenberry

There’s a great deal of celebrating over the fact that the Legislature reached a last-minute deal to fix the roads. Gov. Rick Snyder and the establishment Republicans are happy.

So are the Democrats. You have to admit, the package the Legislature slapped together is loaded with more presents for everyone than the Rockefeller family Christmas tree.

They’ve rigged this so that people of good will and rational mind may have no choice except to vote for it. As you may have heard by now, the lawmakers agreed to hold a statewide referendum in May in which we will be asked to raise the state sales tax by a penny to fix the roads.

Democrats don’t like doing this through the sales tax, which punishes the poor more than the rich. Most Republicans seem afraid of raising any taxes whatsoever for any reason.

But here’s how both sides got around that: To win Democratic support, they wrote the bill so that if voters enact the sales tax for the roads, it will also generate an extra $300 million for schools and fully restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor.

Republicans like this because they can say they never voted for any tax increase – the voters decided to tax themselves. And the roads will get somewhat better, though this won’t generate quite as much as needed, and it will be three years before they get the full amount. So it is a win for everybody, right?

Well, no.

First of all, this could end up being a disastrous loss for everybody. This has to win a statewide vote. If you thought turnout was low last month, wait till you see an election in May.

I’ll be surprised if even twenty percent of us show up. But those people fanatically opposed to hiking any taxes will vote, and they will vote no. If this fails, there is no backup plan.

No new money for schools, the working poor, or the roads themselves. The voters have to buy the whole package, or nothing.

And there is something those who care about the environment won’t like – an extra surcharge of $75 dollars or more in registration fees for electric vehicles, and twenty-five bucks for hybrids.

By the way, know how your yearly license plate fee declines as your car ages? That won’t happen anymore, an extra burden on poor drivers. But the real scandal here is that once again, the Legislature has not done its job. Instead, they are sticking taxpayers with a ten million dollar special election to do their work for them.

Nobody would call Republican attorney and Lansing insider Richard McLellan a liberal. Yet he posted on Facebook that his fellow Republicans in the legislature don’t understand their responsibilities.

He quoted the state constitution, which says

“the Legislature shall impose taxes sufficient with other resources to pay the expenses of state government,” which include “financing and maintaining roads.” “The Legislature should do its job,”

McLellan said.

Well, they stuck us with it instead. We can’t punish them, either; the main culprits were all term-limited, and are leaving Lansing.

Our system is broken, and once again, we have to pay.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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