We in Allegan County are used to good roads, and the responsible stewardship of them. Bids, contracts, and the actual road work proceed in due order. Allegan roads hold up well under the frequent weight exemptions for our agricultural trucking during the frost law months. My local government, Salem Township, even sent a report to every resident in 2015 summarizing the past three years of road spending along with a budget and the plan for which roads would be paved next.
We may not realize how good we have it in Allegan until we compare our road efforts to the way Michigan state roads are managed:
- The roads funding dispute of 2015 has morphed into the road fund diversion of 2016. Both Medicaid Expansion and Flint lawsuits threaten to soak up our increased gas taxes and road fees.
- The 81% loss of Proposal 1 last year lingers on in low voter confidence in the PA 174 – 180 roads fix.
- Michigan ranks 32nd in the nation at effective road spending.
- Michigan road spending is not transparent. (The term “black hole” comes to mind.)
- MI lacks the accountability tools used by many other states to supervise road spending.
What would it take to bring Allegan-style accountability to MDOT? I believe we should at least consider the following road policy questions for 2017 and beyond:
- There is a public Dashboard for Michigan bridges: let’s have one for roads. Shouldn’t everyone know just how bad they are, and whether there has been improvement or deterioration overall?
- Replace the ineffective, politically-appointed State Transportation Commission with an elected body or director accountable to us as voters.
- We passed Right to Work for most Michigan employees. We should end Project Labor Agreement inflation of road work contracts, too. PLA costs go even beyond wages, inflating everything from equipment leases to profit margins.
- The Auditor General of Michigan has attempted to monitor MDOT spending by investigating after the money is gone. Michigan must have an Inspector General who can conduct top-to-bottom, real-time, accounting. This is how you spend public money effectively and catch fraud in the act.
- If Michigan roads are in such a bad way that more funding is needed, why are we still diverting 25% of road taxes to empty bus boondoggles, rail lines to nowhere, and bike trails?
Picking up the pieces in 2017 will not be easy, but some common-sense guidelines have emerged from the protracted road debate. Michigan road work must be held to the highest transparency and accountability for bidding, building, spending, and durability. Above all, road taxes must be spent on roads. Until these basics are honored, the Michigan road funding debate is not over.