By state Rep. Jack O’Malley
Harsh winter conditions this past year ripped up our roads and left us with the question looming larger than ever: “What can we can do to get the road system repaired and maintained?”
It became clear we needed to get smart fast.
“Getting smart fast” began with 12 transportation committee hearings over seven weeks. We talked to everyone, public and private. If they were involved in roads, we invited them to come and give us their thoughts. How do you fix something if you don’t know how it works? We, as legislators, needed to know how building roads works and the outcome was a deep look at the process. Some true fixes became obvious.
I wanted to explain to people in straightforward language, no double talk, what we had learned about what it was going to take to fix the roads. So, this spring I embarked on a tour of open-to-all “roads town halls” all across Michigan – – in communities both large and not so large.
There is much we can do besides the old path of just raising taxes. How about good policy changes that get us spending smarter the money we get from, you, the taxpayer?
Here’s an idea: since most agree the worst roads are “local”– that is, from driveway to highway – – let’s take away procedural barriers preventing local governments from making repairs. Michigan is the most restrictive state in what we don’t allow locals to do. We need to join the other 49 and be more helpful in getting those local roads fixed.
Let’s set up an innovation board that will work with MDOT to investigate new technologies and designs that might help us maintain what we fix.
Let’s make sure every tax dollar paid at the pump goes to the roads. Michigan has the eighth-highest taxes paid at the pump in the country. There’s $855 million annually ready to be added to road repairs in the House budget plan that makes that change. Sounds like a winner to me.
In every town hall, heads nod in agreement when I present these common-sense suggestions. But the governor’s 45-cent per gallon gas tax increase gets hooted down. There are so many ways we can stretch our existing dollars instead. It was amazing to me that this has never really been a serious part of the discussion until now.
I am thrilled the work from the House Transportation Committee that I chair is leading the way in the current discussion. As I have stated from the outset a plan is not just a budget. It is a quality budget with smart policy to make those dollars work harder and go farther.
After hours of study and committee hearings, 14 town halls and over 2,000 miles traveled, I have spread the word. Common sense has a strong foothold in the House Republican efforts to get our roads fixed without raising your taxes!
Let’s hope the governor sees the light.