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Voters are smarter than the politicians

Two things happened yesterday that starkly illustrate what’s right and what’s wrong with politics and government in this state. First, we had an election – or, more accurately, a whole flock of elections. Turnout wasn’t great, despite the beautiful weather.

But the vast majority of the voters behaved reasonably and responsibly.

They decisively rejected the comeback attempts of the two disgraced legislators, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Courser, the more flamboyantly obnoxious, got less than four percent of the vote. This should be the last time we pay much attention to either of them.

In Flint, Mayor Dayne Walling insulted voters’ intelligence by claiming he had nothing to do with the ill-fated switch to Flint River water despite pictures showing him happily pushing the button to start the process. The voters overwhelmingly chose businesswoman Karen Weaver.

In Southfield, a majority black city, the race was between Ken Siver, a white openly gay man, and a black female candidate, Sylvia Jordan. Siver had his signs destroyed, and someone stuffed black voters’ mailboxes with racist, anti-black flyers designed to make them vote for the black candidate. It didn’t work. Siver, who ran an ethical campaign, won in a landslide.

Most school bond and millage proposals won as well. 

But if the people deserve praise, the politicians deserve anything but. Yesterday, both houses of the legislature passed a thoroughly irresponsible “road repair” plan which seems certain to do a great deal of damage to the state while failing to meaningfully fix the roads.

To say this was a case of putting lipstick on a pig would be an insult to both lipstick and pigs. The governor has tried for years to come up with $1.2 billion a year to fix Michigan’s roads. Actually, experts say the real cost of restoring them to anything like decent shape now would be more than $2 billion a year.

The smartest and fairest way to get that would have been to increase the state gas tax. But reasonable is a dirty word to his legislative colleagues, almost as dirty as political courage.

What they passed, and what the governor says he will sign, won’t even produce the full $1.2 billion 'till sometime after the year 202o. Half of that is to come from unspecified cuts to the state’s already strapped general fund. What will be cut?

The lawmakers took the cowards’ way out, and left that to future legislatures to decide, after most of them will be gone. You don’t have to have a doctorate in economics to figure out where those cuts are bound to come from – education, revenue sharing; health, public safety.

Additionally, to make up for the tiny bit of new revenue produced by a small increase in the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, it includes an income tax cut that is supposed to start in eight years. Much of this is fiction, of course; future legislatures will undoubtedly change all this, though for better or worse no one can say.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich said, “This plan won’t fix our roads. It will, however, create new problems that will need to be fixed later.”

He’s right about that. But fixing problems is exactly what our term-limited and gerrymandered legislature pretty much always fails to do.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. 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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