The battle over Proposal 1, known as the Michigan Sales Tax Increase for Transportation Amendment, continues ahead of the May 5 election when voters will decide whether to accept or kill it. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the proposal’s chief proponent, says it is needed to fix Michigan’s bad roads. In making his case Snyder has found unlikely allies in labor groups like the AFL-CIO, who are supporting Proposal 1 and other organizations like the Michigan Association for Justice, formerly the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. In this interview Snyder tells Bankole Thompson, the editor of the Michigan Chronicle, why Proposal 1 is needed to address the state’s crumbling road infrastructure and what is misunderstood.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: Some polls have the road funding doing poorly. Do you believe those numbers?
GOVERNOR SNYDER: More than 100 diverse groups have lined up to support the work of the coalition and rally around this bipartisan plan to make Michigan roads safer. I’ve met and talked with people in Detroit and so many different communities all across the state and I ask them whether they like our roads. I’ve yet to have someone tell me they think we have good roads. I’m confident that Detroiters and Michiganders realize this and that when they get the facts about the proposal, they’ll support it.
MC: Are you surprised that the labor group AFL-CIO has joined you in pushing the road funding?
GS: No. This is one of the strengths of the proposal, that so many diverse groups representing labor, business, police and fire fighters, school teachers and bus drivers, farmers and AG workers – have all come together to support this effort to fix Michigan’s roads and make them safer. This is, and has always been, a bipartisan plan to fix what everyone realizes has been a significant problem for Michigan.
MC: Are you surprised by the campaign mounted by your Attorney General against this proposal?
GS: There are many public safety communitieswho have spoken out in support of a plan to make our state’s roads safer
MC: What is misunderstood about this proposal?
GS: Detroiters and Michiganders need to know that this proposal ensures that the money collected at the pump will now be designated for our roads. That’s about $1.2 billion each year making the much-needed improvements to our roads and bridges. Other revenue will help our schools and our communities, and boost efforts for public transportation.
MC: Would consequential increase in sales tax affect consumer confidence and voter spending which many say stimulates the economy?
GS: Safe roads are an investment in Michigan’s economy and future. We know the value of our roads system in getting Michigan products where they need to be, in getting people to and from work, and getting our students to school safely so they can get the skills they need for careers or college and have a strong quality of life. We’re gaining momentum and we don’t want to do anything that would slow us down.
MC: What is the worst that could happen if the proposal fails?
GS: If we do nothing, our roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate, which just makes the price tag higher and crumbling infrastructure harder to fix. And we don’t just head back to square one, but backward. I think the Legislature will be even more reluctant to take action if a statewide vote is defeated. This is our best opportunity for a long-term solution for our roads.
MC: Some say your administration has not done enough in explaining this proposal to voters.
GS: I have been relentless on this issue and the need for action, and I will continue to be. I’ve been meeting with Michiganders, organization and journalists across the state and I show them chunks of concrete that have fallen from overpasses and bridges or are from a crumbling road. We have plywood under some of our overpasses to protect people from falling chunks of concrete.
MC: Is it possible to fix roads without new taxes?
GS: Michigan needs increased investment in its roads. We need to invest an additional $1.2 billion just to maintain the roads we have now, making them safer. We’ve looked and we’ve done all we can. We don’t have those kinds of resources in the state budget, and any more diversion of funds would severely cut vital services or education.
MC: What would you rather see legislators on fixing roads?
GS: Lawmakers spent a great deal of time last year coming together on this bipartisan plan to invest in making our roads safer. They worked hard, and all the sides came together on a comprehensive plan that creates a long-term solution. This plan ultimately got the support of two-thirds of members in each chamber. That’s not easy to do.
MC: If Proposal 1 passes will it be the new normal for you?
GS: We’ll continue doing what we’ve been doing, which is using relentless positive action to look at our toughest challenges and work together to find a solution. That’s an approach that has worked well. Look at the strength of our economy with nearly 400,000 new private sector jobs and the lowest unemployment rate since 2001. We’re building a foundation that will strengthen Michigan for generations. We’re building a Detroit and a Michigan that works for everyone.
MC: What’s in this proposal for Detroit?
GS: Detroit, and all other cities in our state, will benefit from having safer roads. The proposal also includes more than $100 million for public transportation, which many people in Detroit and many urban areas rely on to get to work and school. There’s money in there to help cities and local governments like Detroit provide vital services and there’s an opportunity for increased investment in our schools. The plan also includes expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income households.