JACK SPENCER: Roads funding negotiations: It’s no picnic

This coming week’s sessions in the Michigan legislature are scheduled to be the final ones before the summer break. Topping the agenda is finishing the budget and possibly tackling road funding. The current plan for getting to the $1.5 billon road funding level set by Gov. Rick Snyder is to double the gas tax.

When Snyder first asked for the funding 18 months ago the amount being sought was $1.2 billion, but it has increased since, especially after the road damage wrought by this past winter’s Arctic temperatures and snowfall. So, apparently we can all blame it on global warming.

Now, as we enjoy the beautiful late spring weather, the lawmakers are itching to get out on the campaign trail. Nonetheless, cobbling together the votes needed to hike the gas tax won’t be easy. Michigan already levies one of the highest gas taxes in the nation and many voters sense there is enough fat in state government to go a long way toward taking care of roads.

Making a push to pass legislation to double the gas tax less than six months prior to an election is bizarre timing – some would say crazy. Yet, it might not seem so crazy to some of Snyder’s advisors. Polling shows that fixing the roads is a high priority (some pollsters claim the No. 1 priority) with Michigan voters. Against this, however, polling also shows most voters don’t favor raising taxes to accomplish it.

If the Governor’s campaign has evidence that failing to get road funding will hurt his reelection chances more than a gas tax hike; that would explain a lot. Based on what’s happening right now in Lansing, Snyder has much at stake with this issue — particularly regarding his image as a leader. Mobilizing this effort in an election-year will likely magnify that effect.

Republicans apparently see (or think they see) an opportunity to get the Democrats to cast most of the “yes” votes for the tax increase. Only time will tell if that vision turns out to be reality or an illusion. All this leads to two key questions:

1) What will Snyder offer the Democrats to seal the deal?

2) How thin is the ice he’s skating on by seeking a bargain with lawmakers of the opposition party at this late date?

Summertime, Father’s Day and History

Turning toward more pleasant scenery, here’s a bit of trivia concerning roads. For readers “seasoned” enough to remember; picnic tables used to be placed at various attractive spots along Michigan’s roadways. This was originally a feature unique to our state.

The practice started in Ionia County back in the 1929 before our current highway system was built. It was the brainchild of Allan Williams, an Ionia County engineer who could be called the father of the roadside picnic table. Michigan’s chief of highway maintenance liked the idea and ran with it. As a result, the Ionia County Road Commission built more than 1,000 tables that were placed across the state.

This columnist first heard the story of Williams and the picnic tables as Night Editor of the Ionia Sentinel Standard, which has published articles on the topic.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, here are a few trivia questions loosely concerning Michigan history and politics. Try them out on dad or granddad. Warning — the Internet probably won’t be much help. The answers appear at the bottom of the column.

A. What county seat in Michigan was once called Fred?

B. What Pulitzer Prize winning book opens with the press corps covering a U.S. Senator’s presidential bid, shuffling onto an airplane bound for an unknown destination, landing in Michigan (most likely Pellston) and eventually ending up on a Mackinac ferry?

C. What two famous Michigan natives were portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the movies?

D. What former Michigan Governor was U.S. Ambassador to Canada?

E. Who was to most recent U.S. President to receive the nomination of his party in Detroit?

F. What two Michigan place names allegedly originated from misinterpreted designations on maps?

G. The 1962 manifesto of the North American student activist movement “Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was named for what Michigan city?

H. What former New York Governor — twice nominated for president by the Republican Party - was born and raised in Owosso, Michigan?

I. In the late 1950s a native of Cassopolis, Michigan became known as “America’s No. 1 Spaceman” after becoming the first pilot to climb above 100,000 feet, which he accomplished in a rocket-powered research plane. Hint: An Air Force Base was named for him. Who was he?

J. What U.S. Senator from Michigan became known as the “Conscience of the Senate”?


(A.) Stanton in Montcalm County; (B) Making of a President 1960; (C) George Gipp and General George Armstrong Custer; (D) James Blanchard; (E) Ronald Reagan in 1980; (F) Clio, in Genesee County - supposedly the map read CL 10, standing for County Line 10 and Novi, in Oakland County - supposedly the map read NO VI, standing for No. 6.; (G) Port Huron; (H) Thomas Dewey; (I) Iven Kincheloe; (J) Phillip A. Hart.