Theres a pundit on TV in the early evening hours who specializes in
painting anyone in public office as a knucklehead.
Permanently saddled with a world-weary expression, he answers emails
from cynical viewers with rolling eyes, a tch-tch, and an exasperated
I told ya so before delivering the inevitable punchline about the
jerks in Washington pulling the strings of the hard-workin American
His name isnt important, because hes more like an automatic cynicism
program -- he might as well be a Pixar computer animation.
But the message is always the same and you hear it on all of the cable
news stations, spreading the infection of cynicism about our public
servants to viewers of every political stripe. Why? because its a lot
easier to tear someone down with slogans and stereotypes than it is to
do the hard work of shaping progress from the muck of complicated
So who can blame U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak for saying take this job and
shove it last week after 18 years of serving the citizens of Michigans
1st Congressional District?
Can you imagine how difficult it must be to serve a district thats
more than 600 miles across in one of the most remote corners of the
United States? Can you imagine how expensive it is to pay Stupaks
out-of-pocket airfares to Washington D.C. from his home in far off Iron
Lets give the man a little respect. Bart Stupak is one of the most
notable leaders in Congress and represents the gold standard of
integrity, passion and intelligence in Northern Michigan. He led the
fight to protect the Great Lakes from water diversion and brought an
inestimable number of federal dollars to his district to provide jobs
in a region thats on par with Appalachia.
No one ever came close to beating Stupak in an election and political
pundits as astute as George Weeks feel he would have won re-election
this year if he had chosen to run, despite whatever the Tea Party might
claim. He would make a fine governor, and if anything, it‘s a shame
he‘s not running for that office.
Stupak also held to his right-to-life principles, shaping the health
care reform legislation while casting a heroic vote on its behalf.
That will mean health coverage for 38,000 uninsured citizens in his
district, along with lower costs and better protection for 197,000.
And, as he says, his vote for health reform means you will no longer
have to live in fear of being one illness or injury away from
I dont personally know Bart Stupak, but have observed through the
years at his public appearances and through his writings and actions
that he is a man of courage who tells it like it is whatever the
consequences. What more could a cynic ask for?
Good luck to Rep. Bart Stupak on whatever path he chooses to follow.
He will surely be missed.
No free lunch
Recently, the Grand Rapids Press hosted a panel of experts to ponder the
idea of establishing new tolls to pay for highway funding in Michigan.
Michigans roads are literally on a highway to hell, owing to their
deterioration and a lack of tax dollars to repair them. Over Drive, a
magazine for truckers, surveyed its readership and found that our
roads are considered to be among the worst in the country, just ahead
of the potholed highways of Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
Although the State of Michigan spends about $3 billion per year on
highway improvements, with funds drawn from federal and state fuel
taxes, thats apparently not enough to get er done.
Plus, an estimated $140 million of those gas tax dollars are diverted
to other state agencies that have nothing to do with roads, such as the
Secretary of State and the Department of Treasury, according to Mike
Nystrom, vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and
So what are the options for getting our roads back on track? The Press
reports that the legislature is considering up to 13 bills to increase
fuel taxes and license fees over the next five years to raise an extra
$1.5 billion per year.
But new taxes are poison doo-doo for politicians these days, so theres
growing support for toll roads as an alternative.
This is partly because increasing fuel taxes may prove to be
ineffective in the long run, considering that more of us are switching
to hybrid or high-mileage vehicles. And what happens when we go
electric? Those gas tax revenues will evaporate.
Plus, it has been noted that neighboring states, including Ohio,
Illinois and Indiana, all rely on toll roads to keep their highways in
good condition, as do many southern states.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is opposed to any tax hikes in
general, but notes that true user fees are sometimes necessary and
appropriate for essential services like transportation.
In other words, toll roads.
Personally, I hate paying tolls whenever driving through Ohio, Illinois
or Pennsylvania. Paying $20 or so to drive through the dreary plains
of Ohio seems un-American. And if youve ever had the misfortune of
driving the roads outside Orlando, Florida, the experience of getting
ripped off by numerous toll booths every few miles seems positively
On the other hand, road tolls certainly fit the zeitgeist of the times:
people dont wish to pay more taxes, but theres no free lunch when it
comes to keeping our roads up to snuff, so heavy users should pay the
freight on fixing our roads, so to speak.
In its essence, its a libertarian idea: those of us who rarely drive
(especially on freeways) shouldn‘t have to pay for those who are heavy
users of our highways.
So perhaps someday soon well get the equivalent of a new tax in the
form of road tolls. Will that mean a decrease in our present gas taxes
and license fees? Probably not. It will be just one more tax, albeit
packaged in a libertarian philosophy thats in step with the times.
Lets take it a step further and charge an admission fee to get into
the paradise of Northern Michigan.