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What do we need in politics today? Adults who treat us like adults

Jack Lessenberry

Normally journalists never say how they vote, but I am about to violate that rule. Eight years ago, I voted to re-elect Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. I thought she was doing a good job; I still think she was less partisan and more practical than others who have held that post.

Yet I have a hard time recognizing that official in the Terri Lynn Land now running for the U.S. Senate. And yesterday, she unveiled an idea that may be one of the worst I’ve ever heard. If you ever leave your house, you know many Michigan roads are in bad shape. Gov. Rick Snyder does.

He’s been trying to get lawmakers to come up with $1.2 billion a year in new money to restore our crumbling roads and bridges. Actually, experts with the Michigan Department of Transportation, now say more like $2 billion a year is needed. The governor suggested getting this from a combination of increased registration fees and raising the state gas tax.

I didn’t totally agree with his formula; we need to raise fees much higher than he would for the monster trucks pounding our roads to rubble.

But otherwise, the governor’s plan makes sense. There’s some rough justice to it, as those who drive more, like me, would pay more than those who drive less. And we’d all end up paying less, because our cars would be in better shape.

However, the legislature has so far refused to approve any significant new road funding. And yesterday, Land revealed her plan for the roads – and it really did blow me away.

Unfortunately, that was because of its monumental stupidity. She wants Washington to eliminate nearly four-fifths of the federal gas tax. She’d cut it from more than 18 cents to four cents a gallon.

That would be a disaster for our state. We actually get more highway funding money back than we take in. Next year, that would amount to $1.2 billion dollars. Her plan would mean we’d get nearly a billion dollars less for the roads. What is she thinking?

Simply this: That the Legislature would be so pleased this money is staying in the state, that they’d cheerfully agree to raise the state gas tax a lot. She said, “If we reduce the federal gas tax, states like Michigan will be free to design their own transportation funding mechanisms rather than a one-size-fits- all approach.”

Well, what may have escaped her notice is that Michigan is already free to do that, but the politicians won’t. They refused to come up with more money for the roads even after last winter’s potholes.

Now, Land is asking us to believe that these same legislators would be willing to more than double the gas tax, which is what they’d have to do. We’d also be paying more just to stay where we are now because we’d get less from the rest of the country.

To be fair, I don’t see any road solutions from the Democrats, either. What we need in politics today are adults who treat us like adults, who tell us that when something’s broken, we have to pay to fix it. Otherwise, we don’t have a chance.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.