To parody Winston Churchill, this year’s Battle of the Budget is Over; the Battle of the Roads is about to begin. The legislature passed the general fund budget this week with rather less fuss than I would have expected, given some of the controversial decisions.
Lawmakers essentially completed the process of finally killing the film incentive program, closed the Maxey boys training school; and senators voted funds for moving into a fancy new office building. This budget doesn’t include either higher or public education, by the way.
Nor does it deal in any real way with the billion-dollar elephant in the room; the problem of the roads. Legislators did cobble together about $240 million dollars in road funding money, and said that would really amount to $400 million, if positive revenue projections pan out.
State Senate Appropriations Chair Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell gets the prize for the year’s most laughable statement, saying "I think that speaks pretty highly about the commitment of this body and our colleagues in the House to really put an emphasis on investing in our infrastructure across Michigan.”
On the contrary, it does nothing of the kind.
The Michigan Department of Transportation says it’ll take more than two billion dollars a year for a decade to get the roads back to acceptable shape. Governor Rick Snyder says it can be done for $1.3 billion. The less than one third of that coughed up by the lawmakers will barely slow the relentless decline that is costing our state lives and jobs.
Anyone who is sane, and who can do arithmetic knows that it will take new tax revenue to fix the roads. But this week, one of the state’s more bizarre political creatures threatened to launch recall campaigns against seven state senators if they dared vote to raise taxes to fix our crumbling infrastructure.
I’m talking about the man who likes to be called “Trucker Randy,” a two-time convicted felon who fled Macomb County after a history of unsavory real estate dealings there. He has since reinvented himself as a right-wing radio talk show host in Antrim County in the Northwest Lower Peninsula, and gotten himself elected county GOP chair.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said, “I’m not concerned about Trucker Randy.” She noted that last year, when he tried to recall then-State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, he couldn’t even come close to collecting the necessary signatures.
The real question is why anyone would pay the slightest attention to Bishop. He was convicted of fraud for abandoning an unfinished subdivision and was ordered to pay restitution to his victims.
The state took his builder’s license away. Later, he got in trouble again for applying for a real estate license and claiming on his application that he had never been convicted of a felony.
An administrative law judge then said all this illustrates Trucker Randy’s “inability to serve the public in an open and honest manner, and his lack of good moral character.”
What Bishop wants is to produce a “chilling effect” to intimidate the politicians and prevent them from doing the right thing. That would be a tragedy.
And allowing him to influence public policy would be a disgrace.
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.