December 6, 2016

State Budget Needs Infrastructure Investment

It’s no secret that Michiganders are begging for better roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other infrastructure. Yesterday, the governor’s infrastructure commission released a report on expected long-term budget needs in Michigan in relation to water systems, roads, energy and technology. The elephant in the room? Michigan simply doesn’t have the funds to address the steep costs of road funding, drinking water and an overall huge infrastructure gap we’ve been facing as a state. And to be frank, we’re underfunding almost every public service.

This committee’s report is mostly a get-well card, but what Michigan needs is a Blue Cross card—a way to pay for what ails us. 

In the case of drinking water, Public Sector Consultants Inc. found that the state is “underinvesting in drinking water infrastructure by anywhere from $284 to $563 million each year.” 

Especially in smaller cities, budgets are even more strapped— increasing public health concerns. These smaller and, often rural, areas simply don’t receive the needed revenue sharing produced by our state’s budget. Most of our states water piping has existed for 50 to 100 years. This compromised integrity caused us the Flint water crisis. The report doesn’t even mention the city, which still requires a significant amount more funding. This is on top of noted overall state drinking water needs. The report notes that drinking water infrastructure will require an additional $19 billion over the next 20 years. 

In addition, our schools still face significant shortfalls—where we underfund at least $1 thousand per student—which totals a price tag of over $1.5 billion dollars. 
Bluntly, our budget needs an increase of more than 30-40% and that’s what this report fails to stress. Our legislature isn’t moving forward quickly enough on this critical issue. When an additional $165 million was proposed in fiscal year 2017 for infrastructure, the legislature settled at a $5 million increase. They also agreed on a road package that is statutorily expected to increase $1.2 billion for the issue. However, the $600 million of this price that is to come from existing spending risks cutting already underfunded state programs. 

It’s time to have a serious conversation about where these funds will come from—or Michigan will continue kicking the can further down the road, falling behind in economic development and seriously undermining environmental and public health. Our less than $10 billion discretionary budget simply won’t cut it.