Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. April 2, 2022.

Editorial: On roads, Whitmer made the promise, she owns the failure

The thing about campaign promises is that, even in this cynical age, voters expect them to be kept. Gretchen Whitmer won the governor’s office four years ago on the strength of a pledge that captivated Michigan’s jarred and jaded motorists:

“Fix the damn roads.”

It was a brilliant slogan in that it captured the frustration of motorists weary of decades of driving on some of the worst roads in America.

Voters were fed up with highways marred by crater-sized potholes, and done with fat bills for repairing damaged front ends and busted tires.

And mostly, they’d had enough with politicians who said smoothing roads was a top priority, but never actually doing much about it.

Whitmer promised she’d be the one who finally brought Michigan’s roads into drivable condition. She hasn’t done it.

The percentage of state roads rated in poor shape today is 40%, according to estimates from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

That’s roughly the same percentage as when Whitmer took office in 2019. There has been a slight improvement — 4% — in roads rated in good condition. That falls well short of what Michigan voters expected from Whitmer’s promise.

Republicans are hammering the governor, who is up for reelection this fall, for the failure to fix the roads. A new 60-second digital ad asks the question, “Are your roads better than they were four years ago?” It features rattled vehicle owners answering definitely not.

The governor’s office is pushing back against the attack, saying Whitmer’s efforts to raise billions for road and bridge repairs were thwarted by a Republican-controlled Legislature.

In her first year in office, Whitmer proposed a 45-cent hike in Michigan’s fuel tax, which would have raised more than $2 billion annually in additional transportation funding.

The governor’s defenders are correct in noting GOP lawmakers killed that proposal.

But they, too, had made campaign promises to their constituents, including a vow not to raise taxes.

And Whitmer didn’t say she’d “fix the damn roads if Republicans let me.” There was no such caveat to her promise.

Part of the expectation of a governor is to find ways to build consensus with lawmakers of both parties to move the state ahead.

Beyond higher taxes, Whitmer offered little in the way of innovative ideas for adopting better road-building tactics to make sure that once a highway is fixed, it stays fixed. Instead, road crews this spring are doing what they’ve always done — shoveling tar into potholes and moving on.

When she asked for the 45-cent tax hike, which we supported at the time, gasoline prices were in the $2.50-a-gallon range.

With per-gallon prices now hovering around $4, the burden of that levy would have Michigan motorists paying California-style gasoline prices.

Michigan is now awash in federal dollars, and Whitmer has offered a $4.7 billion plan for infrastructure, but only $380 million is slated for roads and bridges.

The reality that Whitmer made a big, bold pledge to voters four years ago, and didn’t deliver.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. March 31, 2022.

Editorial: Your voice matters

It’s been a long winter, one that has stretched family budgets to near the breaking point.

We’ve had some unseasonably warm days in March. But we’ve also had unusually cold nights. And long chilly nights force furnaces to run longer and more often.

Northern Michigan households have been hit with higher natural gas bills than they were expecting. Many families that heat with propane had to fill up their tank one extra time this season. Those who heat with wood had to buy or cut an extra cord to keep the woodpile from bottoming out.

Fuel costs across the board are higher than they’ve been in the past, so the resulting bills deliver a double whammy of more quantity and a bigger price tag per unit. We’ve used more fuel, and every gallon or cubic foot costs more than it did a few months ago.

The result is that northern Michigan families this spring had to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to keep their homes warm.

It’s yet another slice off household budgets already reeling from a spike in gas and diesel prices, which itself has factored into rising costs for groceries and virtually anything else that is transported via truck, train plane or ship — which is pretty much everything we buy.

Even locally brewed beer is made from grains transported from somewhere, packaged in cans or bottles manufactured elsewhere, printed with ink from who knows where. Locally grown vegetables get to the farmers market in a truck that runs on diesel or gas.

Consumers are facing a multitude of rising prices. Those cost increases are exacerbated by inflation, the insidious erosion of the dollar’s buying power.

One of the few bright spots in recent middle-class economic history is the rise in hourly pay rates that spread across many industries during the pandemic. That’s yet another example of the law of supply and demand. The supply of employees dipped as retirements and resignations moved employees out of some industries’ labor pool. Demand for workers recovered as the economy began to climb out from the depths of the pandemic. Low supply coupled with high demand resulted in pay scales going up, at least in those industries most affected.

Of course, rising wages usually translate into higher prices for whatever those employees are working with. Price hikes rotate in a spiral — if the cost of one thing goes up, another soon follows. So a worker who gets a pay raise soon needs to pay more for food, or insurance, or heating fuel.

Inflation is a fact of all economies. It’s always there, quietly chipping away at gains made elsewhere.

Inflation only becomes a topic of public conversation when it shifts into high gear — as it appears to be doing now. The Fed plans to battle inflation by raising interest rates, which has proven effective in the past. But rising interest rates carry their own bad news for middle class consumers.

In the end, all the average Joe or Jane can do is get by as best they are able by seeking out the highest-paying job possible and cutting expenses.

But home heating is a tough expense to reduce in the north, particularly during a frigid winter or a particularly chilly spring. Children and adults alike don’t function well when they’re shivering.

We can add insulation, replace drafty windows, and make sure the kids remember to close the door.

But in the end, we’re all captives of the cold. If we want to stay warm, we need to pay the heating bill.

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Alpena News. March 31, 2022.

Editorial: Commission made right call reversing raises

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted recently to reverse 7% raises the commissioners had given themselves.

The commissioners who voted for that reversal — all but Democrat Brittni Kellom — made the right call.

The vote means commissioners’ pay reverts to 35% of the governor’s salary, or about $55,755, as set by the commission in its earliest meetings in fall 2020.

The commissioners gave themselves the raise after they’d completed their first-ever job of redrawing state House, state Senate, and U.S. House district maps, meaning their workload had severely dropped off. And they voted to give themselves the raise despite facing a budget shortfall as legal fees mount for the commission to fight lawsuits against its newly drawn maps.

Given those circumstances, we argued previously that the raise — a very generous raise in any job — was undue, and we’re glad to see the commissioners see the light.

In fact, we’re glad to see a vote taken to set the commissioners’ pay to the constitutional minimum 25% of the governor’s salary, even if that vote failed.

We the government must compensate its agents to attract talented people, just like any employer. But giving generous raises when you’re over budget and your workload has fallen off is not the way to go.

Thanks to the commissioners for acting with prudence with taxpayer money.

END