PWIR: Snyder: “Continued Failure is Not an Option”

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder).

While delivering a special message on Michigan’s sagging infrastructure system last week, Governor Snyder noted that, "continued failure is not an option." He’s absolutely right. Our infrastructure in Michigan right now really is an ongoing failure. Improving it is integral to conservation and it touches nearly every action you will take today, from driving to work in the morning to brushing your teeth at night. An overview of some innovative ideas to fix things up is in this week’s Political Week in Review:

Quick-ish Recap of the Snyder Infrastructure Message

Love him or hate him (or somewhere in between), you have to give the Tough Nerd credit for ambitious goals. This time around, the focus of his special message on Wednesday was on infrastructure. Governor Synder’s speech attempts to answer the question of how we improve our decrepit system of roads, mass transit, sewage and pipes, broadband, dams, and rail lines.

There are few better things government can do to quickly stimulate the economy than spark infrastructure improvements. Direct job growth – not just retention – can come from the building of new (and retrofitting of existing) infrastructure across the country. On the other hand, did you even know you got a tax rebate from the federal stimulus?

As for smarter land use, Snyder proposes a new bus rapid transit (BRT)system to offer mass transit within the Southeast Michigan region. BRT is an increasingly popular way to quickly bring speedy transit options to a region without requiring all the time and cost of building light rail or subways. It creates dedicated lanes for high-tech busses (that often even look like train cars) that can change the lights to give uninterrupted service between stops. This makes it easier to tie communities together and create vibrant, denser, and safer neighborhoods around the dedicated stations.

There are other components, too. Right now our roads are funded by a gas tax on each gallon you pump. As cars get more efficient, not only does that provide less tax revenue due to you using less gas, it actually creates a disincentive for state government to support more efficient cars like electric vehicles that may not use any gas at all. Snyder’s proposal would shift the tax system to address that broken policy.

There isn’t enough room here to go into the proposal for dam removal, bridge safety, road fixes, and the rest, but the improved financing method for the state’s and cities’ sewage system is another important element of his proposal that we can explore together in future weeks.

My last word on this: All of this is only a proposal. To make any of it happen, the Legislature must act and they have already said they don’t want to touch this until next year. We will undoubtedly need your help soon in pressuring them to adopt many of these important boosts to Michigan’s job market and quality of life. As Snyder said in his speech: “Continued failure is not an option.”

(That quote also reminds me of , which is also about a kind of infrastructure: Mass transit to the moon!)

Legislative Inaction May Cost Lives for Those without Heat

You know I try to avoid hyperbolae in these updates, but I’m not exaggerating here. For Michigan residents who are unable to pay their heating bills, a recent court ruling combined with a callous Legislature may mean the traditional help to get through the frigid Michigan winter may be gone. That means no heat. And, for thousands in Michigan, that can mean no Spring.

The program in question is called LIEEF (Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund). Its function is to keep the heat on for families without the means to do so and also offer weatherization services so that dramatically less heat escapes their homes in the first place and their bills go down as a result. It actually fixes the problem; it doesn’t just throw money at it. It’s exactly the kind of government supported program we should be saving and promoting.

Instead, a coalition of major industrial powers in Michigan called ABATEobjected to the fact that part of their utility payments were going to keeping families’ heat on. They filed suit and won, leaving a legislative fix as the only option.

Sadly, although a temporary fix is in the works, we need more than a frosty little band-aid here. Lives are at stake.

The Hot List for Week of October 24th

For those of you who read this Political Week in Review each week for a glimpse of the politics moving environmental and conservation issues in Michigan, here is another great tool for you: The Hot List. It is a document we produce in conjunction with the Michigan Environmental Council and other major environmental organizations in the state each week to let every legislator know what the most important bills for that week are and what vote we recommend.

The Hot List for the State House for October 24th

The Hot List for the State Senate for October 24th

The Hot List can be found each week at the state’s online portal for environmental advocacy, on the Capitol Conversation page. All legislation, of course, is viewable in more detail, in real time, and in real language (not just legalese), on the Legislation Watch page. Great Michigan is a product of over four dozen environmental groups’ knowledge and input that we are proud to coordinate.

At Michigan LCV specifically, however, we set ourselves to tackling deeply complex issues and distilling them into easily understood summaries. Sometimes those summaries are as simple as a red, green, or yellow mark for the Governor’s actions or a score of a legislator’s voting record. The Hot List is an indicator for us as to what bills we will consider for the Legislative Scorecard and how we will score them. Legislators shouldn’t have an exclusive on this knowledge, though, and we want to be as transparent as possible; The Hot List is for you, too.

Until next week,

Ryan Werder

Political Director

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