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UP drivers deserve a plan that fixes roads here, not just Detroit

Guest column

During her State of the State address late last month, Gov. Whitmer announced she was giving up on her first proposal to fix Michigan’s roads — asking drivers to shell out 45 cents more in taxes for each gallon of gas they put in their tanks — and moving on to Plan B, which is bonding.

To be honest, I’m not sure which of the governor’s plans hurts more for drivers here in the Upper Peninsula.

After people said in no uncertain terms they didn’t want and couldn’t afford her massive gas tax increase, the governor decided to put $3.5 billion on the state credit card for our kids and grandkids to worry about paying later. Unfortunately, the Legislature doesn’t get to have a say. The governor can issue these bonds without us.

To make things worse, the governor’s bonding plan won’t even fix any of our local roads. The type of bonds she selected can only be spent on state-owned roads like interstates and highways — and most of the ones on her list of repairs are in metro Detroit. Not a single dime of the money from the bonds will be spent repairing roads in the Western Upper Peninsula.

The bad news doesn’t end there. Not only are U.P. taxpayers going to be paying for these bonds for decades with absolutely nothing to show for it, the bonding debt she’s added is going to mean even less money will be available for our local roads. That’s because the state is required to make its bond debt payments first — before any road revenue is distributed to our local road agencies.

When it comes to roads, taxpayers are still paying off debt connected to bonds sold between 2001 and 2011, costing around $200 million annually in recent years. The state was finally in a position where our annual debt payment would decline, and it could have been paid off by 2036. Instead, the governor’s decision to sell $3.5 billion in new bonds will add more money to the bill and extend payments well into the future. It’s irresponsible.

People have been very clear. They want us to use the money already within the state budget to fix local roads. That’s why the Legislature has been working in that direction.

The state’s already-approved funding plan for road improvements will be fully phased in by 2021, and we are fighting to get as much as possible done sooner rather than later. The Legislature has accelerated road and bridge improvements several times in the past few years alone without raising taxes or fees. We would have done that again in our current budget year — but the governor rejected the Legislature’s plan to invest an additional $375 million without tax increases. Now she’s making things even more difficult by increasing our bond debt.

While I continue to support fixing our roads, the governor’s proposals are not in the best interest of local drivers. It’s time for the governor to remember she serves the entire state, not just southeast Michigan.

State Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Powell and Ishpeming townships in Marquette County.

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