2015-05-07 / Views

Prop 1 defeat about priorities more than taxes

our opinion

Now, on to Plan B, because everyone knew there would be one.

The historic failure of Proposal One can be taken as a lot of things — an overall distrust in government seems to be the most common interpretation — but above all it should not be confused with satisfaction in the present condition of Michigan roads.

Here we need to separate out Leelanau County from other points across the state. County residents pay an additional .5-mill property tax to maintain roads, and that constant influx of funds has helped build and maintain one of the best local road systems in Michigan. So if Proposal One supporters were counting on spring potholes to generate “yes” votes, they should have left Leelanau out of the strategy.

But drive across M-72 and through much of the state and, well, potholes and crumbling pavement prevail.

The few people who still wonder why some 80 percent of voters rejected Proposal One need only take a longer look at the ballot itself. Hopelessly complicated, it sought to divvy out something for everyone. Although the proposed Constitutional amendment was promoted as a way to “fix the roads,” only 60 percent of its revenues would go toward that cause.

Compromise brought Republicans and Democrats to the table during the closing minutes of the 2014 Legislative session to carve out the proposal. But the resulting sausage was distasteful to voters.

Residents were not willing to fund a grand effort to address an array of the state’s ills. Proposal One would fund mass transportation and streetscape projects, provide money for low-income residents, supplement funding of public schools and augment the state General Fund.

Back to the roads, and what we can do for them now.

The first step needs to be taken within state government, where a discussion should begin over priorities. Our deteriorated roads represent an emergency, Proposal One backers shouted. We agree. It’s time to look at cutting back or eliminating some of the expansive programs now run by MDOT and other state departments.

If the choice is between streetscape and repairing pavement, the answer must get simpler.

We know it’s never that easy. Federal funds may be lost. But people are tired of hearing about what cannot be done with their money. Polls show people are willing to pay more to fix the roads, yet four out of five voted against Proposal One. It’s pretty obvious that residents are disgusted at the convoluted solution their representatives offered for a straight-forward problem.

The point is that until people believe their priorities match that of their government, there will be mistrust.

We’re not so naive as to think a higher tax of some form isn’t needed. The most logical choice is a higher gas tax.

Would we support a higher gas tax? When and if state government takes steps to show that, indeed, it has prioritized spending to account for the emergency state of our roads, let’s talk about how much more money is needed.

And should the state need more money for other needs, let’s make that a separate conversation.

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