Fix our roads!

From casual observance our roads appear to be worse than ever. Which is why I am (and you should be) utterly perplexed as to why our state Legislature intends to waste money to cut taxes rather than fix our roads.

State Sen. Jack Brandenburg, Republican of Harrison Township, is sponsoring legislation that cuts the state income tax rate to 3.9 percent from 4.25 percent.

Michigan’s income tax is not overly burdensome, and is low both historically and comparably to other states. According to the Tax Foundation, a conservative research center, Michigan is 12th out of 50 states in terms of the income tax rate. And the first nine states on the list do not collect an income tax, or only collect the levy on investment income. This means that out of 41 states, Michigan has the 3rd lowest income tax rate.

The Republican mantra to cut taxes, in any case, at all times has become old. It’s been old since President Ronald Reagan left office in 1989. There are many instances when tax reduction is an appropriate policy response to a problem. Poor Detroiters need a tax cut. Residents of Ypsilanti, whose property taxes are comparable to those in Detroit, could also use tax relief. But the reason our state lost people between the census in 2000 and the one in 2010 is not because of our tax burden – it is mostly due to a lack of jobs.

Construction spending would be much-needed fiscal stimulus, which would create jobs. Good jobs at that. Even with the moribund economy, which has lowered the cost of labor and materials (which makes the proposition even more lucrative) construction workers are still paid well. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that construction workers can earn up to $28.07 per hour.

Our taxes are not a very costly expense for citizens in the state, but our roads are. An estimate from Tuesday by Trip shows residents spend $7.7 billion annually in lost time, wasted fuel and on car repairs due to our roads that are in disrepair. The national transportation advocates also estimate that the poor condition of our roads cost motorists in Detroit $1,600 and $1,027 for motorists in Grand Rapids

And why are our roads in such disrepair? We are all aware how Mother Nature’s effects weather the roads and how salt makes them brittle, but Minnesota, Ohio and other northern states have the same problem, yet spend far less on car repairs due to broken roads. The problem is that our state spends the least on roads in the U.S. Michigan spends $154 per capita on roads according to the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency.

If there is an expenditure, which can be easily justified, it is the construction cost to build and repair roads in the state. Revenue from the gas tax, which is typically dedicated for road expenses, has started to decline. People drive less, and our cars are fuel-efficient.

But as reported by the state’s budget office, we’re projected to take in a surplus between $971.1 million and $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2014. That money should not be wasted on tax cuts. Aside from a proposal that would stash cash away for a rainy day, every penny of that surplus should be used for infrastructure improvements – specifically our roads.

We need to tell our elected officials to fix our roads. Anybody who votes otherwise should be thrown out of office in the 2014 election cycle.

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