By Scott Dzurka, Michigan Association of United Ways
“I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” ― Will Rogers
Watching the legislative process isn’t the prettiest thing around, but with patience (and lots of it!), it usually works. That’s what it feels like we’re in after last week’s overwhelming voter response to oppose Proposal 1 for the roads.
What’s interesting as I listened in my journeys the past few months across the state was the anger, confusion and mistrust we have right now among the electorate. “Why couldn’t they solve this themselves?”, “Why are there so many things attached to this?”, “Why don’t they just raise the gas tax?”, “When are they going to take back their promises” were just a few of the several questions I heard talking to people about this proposal.
Even though it’s after the fact, I do want to give decision-makers some credit -- They made a decision, they worked together across parties to do it and if you looked at it from a long-range point of view, it was a long-range solution (how many of you think you’ll be driving a primarily gas-run car in 10 years making a gas tax useless?).
And as a result, voters said TRY AGAIN. It’s not going to be an easy path from here and as voters we need to find a way to be supportive of those who we’ve elected, because I think one key lesson from this exercise was the people expect those in charge to make a decision – not punt it back to the electorate.
So what should they do? While we heard before there is no “Plan B”, it seems now we’re hearing alternatives – enough for every alphabet letter out there! Without a doubt, the public understands the needs of our roads and the problem needs a solution so inaction is not an option. So instead of diving into analyzing each of the new plans and ideas, I think we need to get back to principles which we can embrace first and then look at those each time an idea springs forth. So often, the legislative process tries to act immediately and there are certainly consequences to bear in such a climate afterward. No solution is going to be perfect and we all need to accept that as there will be something we will not like in the end.
What are the principles/ideals that should be considered? I’ll offer a few here and feel free to offer your own – who knows, maybe we’ll find the approach that can meet our ideals. Here’s some to think about:
- Understand the Consequences – Without a doubt, there will be consideration of reductions to existing expenditures. No one appreciates waste (except for trash collectors!). I don’t believe we’re going to find government waste but there will be dialogue about cuts of “ineffective programs”. I’m reminded of the visual of a water balloon here – you squeeze it and it pops out at the other end. The same thing holds true with government cuts – there will be consequences in other areas – potentially to the nonprofit sector, local government and business. We need to understand and consider what those consequences are fully before any reductions occur.
- Think Long-Term – Raising the gas tax alone is short-term thinking (as I mentioned earlier, how many of us will be driving electric cars in the future?). It’s been 20 years since we last adjusted the gas tax and even then we knew it wasn’t going to last us. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and I hope we’re not right back here in 5 years. Let’s think what a solution could look like for generations to come.
- Fairness for All – So many times, this state gets into the “us versus them” mentality. Let’s embrace MICHIGAN and ALL Michiganders in this solution. We’re all in this together and we need to think about everyone. There’s potential for so many side-bar issues to get tied into this resolution and let’s not take advantage of various groups though our approach – whether they’re from a particular region of the state, whether they have a disability, or whether they’re part of a union. Let’s respect people for who they are in the process and not take advantage of them.
So what principles are you going to add to the list?