Detroit Free Press. March 26.
Lawmakers finally confronting the cost of Michigan's neglected roads
As a long-awaited thaw exposes more of the ravaged moonscape to which many Michigan roads have been reduced, motorists and their elected procrastinators in Lansing are at last confronting a reality Gov. Rick Snyder noted in his 2013 State of the State address:
Michiganders can pay more at the gas station, the treasurer's office or the repair shop, but there's simply no avoiding the toll that decades of neglect have taken on the roads on which we rely to get to work, supply our factories and retailers and facilitate tourism.
The question is not whether to invest in a long-term roads fix, but how much and how quickly.
The good news is that responsible lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have begun to recognize that addressing the state's crumbling infrastructure is more urgent than the election-year tax cut that many were championing only a month ago.
According to the Michigan Information and Research Service, Republicans and Democrats in the House are making progress on legislation that would add $300 million to $400 million in annual road funding to the $215 million already appropriated for emergency pothole repairs. Elements under consideration include several that the Snyder administration has championed for more than a year: a new wholesale fuel tax that generates more revenue when gas prices rise; the equalization of levies on gasoline and diesel fuel, and lower weight limits for trucks.
These are all reasonable options for increasing the state's investment in roads. But the Legislature's ambitions remain inadequate to the need for a long-term road plan that includes a sustainable maintenance schedule and the development of public transit options that promote redevelopment of the state's urban centers and reduce the stress on its highways. Lawmakers also need to do more to incentivize repair and improvement of local roads, which also suffer from a lack of funding and long-term planning.
Legislators are notoriously reluctant to make long-term investments in an election year. But Michigan's unusually harsh winter has highlighted and exacerbated infrastructure deficits that had already reached the critical stage. Motorists who are paying real money to replace tires and wheels or realign vehicles humbled by crumbling roads can no longer be placated by token tax cuts that don't begin to compensate for their increased repair costs.
What is needed is a maintenance program that extends beyond next year's freeze-and-thaw cycle and suggests that state policymakers are thinking about the needs of a new generation of employers, workers and consumers. Anything less constitutes a continuation of the legislative dereliction for which Michigan motorists are already paying an exorbitant price.
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell). March 27.
Making electricity deregulation work
We're all about paying less for electricity, but we're unconvinced that a bill pending in the Michigan House would lead to lower bills, and we're satisfied to see this legislation on a slow track.
Energy deregulation is getting a lot of attention recently, in spite of the fact that a bill that would allow more utilities to sell electricity in Michigan seems unlikely to advance in the Legislature.
Gov. Rick Snyder has already indicated his skepticism, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, calls the idea "a strategic mistake."
Even so, Michigan's big utilities are making known their opposition, with Consumers Energy already bankrolling issue ads on television and radio opposing House Bill 5154.
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, the bill would remove the current cap on electric choice. Michigan law allows customers to choose another electricity provider, but only up to 10 percent of a utility's electric sales.
The bill also would deregulate rates for Detroit Edison Co. and Consumers Energy, allowing rates to fluctuate with the market without Michigan Public Service Commission review.
The utilities' opposition to deregulation will no doubt trigger skepticism among consumers and lawmakers understandably wary of monopolies and their impact on rates.
Michigan residents already pay more for electricity than consumers in neighboring Ohio and Illinois, both of which allow competition. A recent poll found that 58 percent of likely Michigan voters would support lifting the cap, a majority that held up in both political parties.
Yet the allure of reducing rates through increased competition may be illusory. Among the 24 states that have enacted electricity deregulation plans, the results are mixed.
Utility executives hoping to reverse public opinion on the issue could point to Pennsylvania. Hundreds of thousands of consumers who signed up for variable-rate plans were surprised to find their monthly bills had tripled or quadrupled in January and February as the demand for power increased during unusually cold weather and the price of electricity went through the roof.
The lesson in Pennsylvania, however, isn't that deregulation can't work, but rather how deregulation is implemented requires careful attention to detail and regulatory oversight of how retail providers of electricity set rates. Transparency, of course, is essential.