The Michigan Office of the Auditor General released its overdue performance audit of MDoT’s Bridge Inspection Program Friday afternoon, just in time to miss last week’s news cycle. Weekend news reports focused on bridge inspection frequency, but there is a more fundamental question which should be answered first: Are the MDoT bridge records which were audited complete and correct? Even remotely so?
The Federal Highway Administration collects bridge data from the State DoT’s and other sources to create and maintain the National Bridge Inventory. It is supposed to list all American bridges which have roads running across them or below them, along with ownership, identifiers, and condition data. Condition data is given as a number from 0 (failed) through 9 (good beyond current standards). These numbers then get converted into the descriptors you read in the press, such as ‘structurally deficient’, poor, good, etc.
The MOAG performance audit is replete with statistics derived from MDoT’s bridge inventory database which show – no surprise – that some of Michigan’s bridges are in poor shape. You can see MOAG’s statistics as of April 30th, 2014 in the audit or go to a searchable database of individual bridge data across the entire country, as of 2012, brought to us by Alexander Svirsky of MassRoads.com.
A first pass at the MOAG bridge inspection audit involved looking at the worst condition category of bridges, those rated 0 or 1 for failed or imminent failure. Going through the Wayne County owned bridge summary on Page 51 of the new MOAG audit, I was heartened to see that Wayne County has no condition category 0 or 1 bridges. But there are at least two zero condition category major bridges in Wayne County across the Rouge River, so let’s say I am experiencing a little cognitive dissonance just now.
Michigan Law Enforces Obama's Latest 'Pen and Phone' Gun Control With Draconian Penalties
It turns out that the stealth U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives proposal to prohibit the most popular cartridge used by civilians in the AR-15, America’s most popular civilian rifle, will be enforced by draconian penalties in Michigan law. This prohibition will affect all owners of .223 Remington caliber rifles, not just the AR-15. BATFE has indicated that they are withdrawing a ‘sporting purpose’ exemption for the standard issue U.S. Military 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Remington) cartridge, claiming that it is armor piercing handgun ammunition under the 1986 Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act.
Michigan legislators cloned LEOPA in 1990 with one important distinction. The Michigan statutory language actually prohibits any use of prohibited ammunition. From MCL 750.224c:
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), a person shall not manufacture, distribute, sell, or use armor piercing ammunition in this state. A person who willfully violates this section is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years, or by a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.
‘Use’ includes loading a rifle magazine with prohibited ammunition or even firing it in a single shot rifle. The Federal LEOPTA at least allows gun owners to use up stocks of ammunition on hand when a cartridge is prohibited. A bunch of Michiganders are about to become felons if BATFE gets its way thanks to another triumph of legislative draftsmanship by our Legislature. Violating MCL 750.224c is a four year felony, a rude surprise to someone owning M855 ammunition. Perfectly legal one day, a felon the next. The joy of multilevel government regulation.
You are about to be buried in pseudostatistics and factoids purporting to demonstrate just how bad Michigan roads are. We have already demonstrated that the TRIP vehicle maintenance factoids fabricated by a devious road contractors’ business league are a complete fraud.
Now State of Michigan government entities are unleashing a wave of propaganda intended to drive your vote on Proposal 2015-01. Two State of Michigan government entities have prepared campaign flyers on behalf of Proposal 15-1 using Michigander’s tax dollars: MDoT and the Transportation Asset Research Council (TAMC).
Both MDoT and TAMC have spent years preparing slick pamphlets decrying the sad condition of Michigan’s roads, citing PAvement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) data collected by TAMC with MDoT and local road agency help. These pamphlets claim that 30 – 40 % of Michigan roads are in poor condition. But are they really?
Reflex Conditioning Drives Uncontrolled Government Spending
The brilliant, Nobel Prize winning physiologist Ivan Petrovitch Pavlov demonstrated that you could condition a dog to salivate by sounding a metronome. All he had to do was sound the metronome when putting out food for his dogs. It did not take long for his dogs to associate the sound of the metronome with food. Then he no longer even had to put food out to get the dogs to salivate; he only had to sound the metronome.
Today, inferior rank politicians have been conditioned to salivate when a financial grant is offered by superior rank politicians. The only problem with these grants of largess is that they always come with caveats, and usually require matching funds. These restrictions are a deliberate – and successful – effort to frustrate all efforts to manage government expenditures.
Mass Transit Skims $ 120 Million from Proposal 2015-01 Road Work Funds
Ever hear of the Michigan Comprehensive Transportation Fund? Ten cents of every Michigan fuel tax dollar gets diverted to this mass transportation slush fund. It is only just behind the sales tax as a diversion of your current fuel tax dollars from Michigan’s roads.
All motor vehicle fuel taxes collected in the State of Michigan are first deposited into the Michigan Transportation Fund. Then MCL 247.660 (1)(f) (Public Act 51 of 1951) dictates that 10% of the funds deposited in the Michigan Transportation Fund be immediately transferred to the Comprehensive Transportation Fund. The amended version of MCL 247.660 you are being offered in Proposal 2015-01 has the very same section (1)(f), making the same 10% immediate diversion.
So the $ 1.2 billion that Proposal 2015-01 supporters are promising you for road work is actually only $ 1.08 billion. Kirk T. Steudle, P.E. gets a whole new stash to maintain and expand his stable of rotting train cars, $ 120 million that cannot be spent on the roads by law. $ 120 million that gets skimmed from the $ 1.2 billion you are being promised for the roads. And no, it is not skimmed from the $ 800 million that Proposal 2015-01 dedicates to the Democratic base.
Now you now know how Michigan political math works in the age of Common Core. Pay $ 2 billion for roads, get $ 1 billion in road work.
Health Care: 10%
Michigan ranks 31st overall among the states in the Freedom Index. Dismal per capita levels of state taxes, spending, and regulation weighed down Michigan’s rankings. Michigan’s ranking in the individual policy categories are:
DNR just slyly reported that Michigan hunting license sales dropped to 729,000 in 2014, a 4.2% drop from 2013 sales and the all time low in data extending way back to 1958. This drop is even worse than the numbers suggest, since the new HB 4668 hunting license rules require base licenses for hunting activities which did not require licenses in previous years. And if you believe President Obama and his statistical mathmagicians, the U.S. economy surged at a 5% GDP growth rate in 2014Q3 just before Michigan’s traditional firearms deer season. Michigan’s population increased by 11,684 people in 2014, the third consecutive annual increase. So the number of hunters should have increased in 2014? But the number of hunters in Michigan dropped, and hunter numbers declined because license fees skyrocketed under HB 4668 of 2013.
The most popular hunting license prices increased 50 – 100 % under the new 2014 fee schedule, although a direct comparison is not possible because the licenses were restructured under HB 4668 to ‘simplify’ the license schedule. Even though the DNR has not released license sales dollar amounts yet, we can still sketch out the doleful effect of the DNR hunting license fee increases on Michigan’s staggering economy.
Fix Planned to Correct Sales Tax Problem in Roads Plan
The administration of Governor Rick Snyder will seek legislation to correct a potential problem in the road funding plan that as written would lift the sales tax off of gasoline only for motor vehicles, but not for boats, snowmobiles and other non-road purposes like generators and gasoline-powered equipment.
As currently constructed, that would create a mess for retailers who theoretically would have to determine whether or not to charge the sales tax and even ask customers filling up a gasoline can what the intended use of the purchase is. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, as part of a broad analysis it is conducting on the road funding plan, noted the quirk and provided the information to Gongwer News Service.
It will be interesting to see how Governor Snyder fixes this. Purchasing gasoline for your boat or ORV could become a really entertaining bureaucratic exercise. Ready for the ‘Gasoline Police’? Think of the new forms to be filled out.
CRCoM is a collection of the usual corporate interests orbiting Michigan government. Not certain why they would have ratted out this bungle to Gongwer, but it does suggest a certain degree of unease among the establishment.
News stories on the Michigan road tax proposal are replete with compelling, eye popping factoids about the costs poor roads impose on Michigan drivers. These factoids are so compelling that our colorless Governor cites them to sway voters in the upcoming sales tax proposal debate. Some examples:
An inadequate transportation system costs Michigan residents a total of $7.7 billion every year
Driving on rough roads costs Michigan motorists a total of $2.3 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs
Driving on rough roads costs the average Detroit urban area motorist $536 annually in extra vehicle operating costs
Driving on rough roads costs the average Michigan motorist $357 annually in extra vehicle operating costs
You are expected to conclude that a 16.67% sales tax increase is a just trifle to escape these ghastly financial burdens. These factoids are always attributed to “TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research organization”. Sounds like an independent, credible source – right? The adjectives ‘nonprofit’ and ‘research’ give you a high level of confidence in their pronouncements? Perhaps you should dig a little deeper than our conniving politicians and their lazy media scribes. The TRIP report they are mining for these factoids is: MI_Transportation_By_The_Numbers_TRIP_Report_Jan_2014
Politicians of all stripes are rooting around for fresh money to fulfill past, present, and future promises lately, figuring that the economy is so hot that their depredations will go unnoticed and have no consequences. Let’s take a look at a Michigan example: the increase in license fees for hunting and fishing which the Legislature authorized in 2013 and which took effect in 2014.
The most popular hunting and fishing license prices doubled under the new fee schedule, although a direct comparison is not possible because the licenses were restructured to ‘simplify’ the license schedule. Governor Snyder’s goal for these increases was to raise an additional $ 18.1 million dollars annually for the DNR. The Senate Fiscal Agency benchmarked the anticipated annual increase at $ 19.7 million.
These are fees, paid voluntarily, so why should we care? Only taxes matter? The State of Michigan has been reducing the amount of money appropriated to the DNR from tax revenues since 2000, a reduction that now amounts to about 70%. So fees are now required to replace taxes. A common story across the United States. Fees play better with voters than taxes.