Why Are Michigan Roads So Bad? 10 Things To Know

The past month has seen roads in Michigan deteriorate to never before seen conditions.  Potholes and cracks are everywhere.  The freeze and thaw cycle has been especially bad this year, turning many roads to near gravel. But, Michigan isn’t the only state with this weather.  So, why are the roads so bad?  The answer isn’t as simple as any one thing.  Here are ten things to know about why Michigan roads are so bad.

Taxes and Spending

  1. Michigan drivers pay a lot in fuel taxes.  Michigan is one of the top five states in terms of taxes collected at the pump.  This infuriates a lot of drivers.  Common sense tells you that higher taxes should mean better roads.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way.  So why?
  2. Michigan doesn’t allocate sales tax at the pump to roads. Most states assign all taxes collected at the pump toward roads.  Michigan only allocates the fuel taxes specifically toward roads.  The sales tax portion goes to the general fund.  This means our spending levels are among the lowest in the nation per capita.
  3. Voters said no when given a chance to correct this.  A few years, it was put before voters to allocate the sales tax on gas toward roads.  This would have infused a ton more money into the roads.  But, it required an increase in the sales tax rate, which required it be put before voters.  They said no.  I wonder how many regret this decision now.

Maintenance

  1. Road construction isn’t the problem.  Many roads in Michigan are hard pressed to last 25 year.  Many reason that they aren’t building the roads well. In fact, roads are built to the same standards as in surrounding states.
  2. Preventative maintenance is what’s missing.  If roads were taken care of here as they are in other states, people would be very perplexed.  See, we only start giving attention to a road after cracks and potholes appear. In fact, attention should be given to a road before any of these things happen. In other states, roads are repaved before they appear to need this done.  This protects the underlying road, which is the key to longevity.  If you keep the base road in good shape, it can last 50 years or more.
Image from morguefile courtesy of DarkSinistar.

Other Issues

  1. Weight limits.  Michigan allows heavy trucks to travel the roads with limits twice as high as most states.  Some say that this hurts roads.  Others on the opposite side of the fence argue that it doesn’t matter, since more axles are required to spread the load.  I think we should be in line with the surrounding states, but lobbyists have this one locked up.
  2. Lots of barely used roads.  Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a beautiful place. There are a lot of roads there to travel around.  Many of them are barely used, but require attention nonetheless.  A higher percentage of funding per car traveled goes to these roads than to the roads in the population centers.  Many such roads have actually been returned to gravel roads, but there’s still a large disparity here.

The Future of Michigan Roads

  1. Roads have more funding coming.  A couple of years ago, lawmakers increased the gas tax and also increased registration fees.  This was the first major increase to road funding in over 20 years.  This will dramatically increase spending on roads.  It also will increase the taxes along with inflation, something that the increase 20 years ago failed to do.  This should help us from falling behind again.
  2. It’s going to take time.  Many voters are unhappy since the funding increase went into place a couple of years ago, yet the roads seem to be worse than ever.  The harsh fact is that the improvements will take time.  The funding shortages toward roads have been years, even decades, in the making.  It is going to take just as long to correct this.

The bottom line is that roads are awful but at least help is on the way.  It can’t come soon enough.  We’ll likely have to endure at least a few more spring seasons of bad roads, which is when potholes hit.  Hopefully, momentum will build and roads will improve over time.  Good roads in Michigan is something I hope to see in my lifetime!

Readers, how are roads where you are?  Does your state adequately fund road construction and maintenance? 

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Remember When Federal Budget Deficits Mattered?

It’s so interesting watching the latest talk from Washington come through.  It’s all about potential tax cuts and what they mean.  President Trump is touting a plan that would lower taxes for many businesses and people.  He claims it will help the middle class.  Pundits argue it mostly helps the rich.  Either way, it’s interesting that very little attention is given to the budget deficits and the impact that the plan would have.

Budget Deficits

For as long as I can remember, the federal government has run a budget deficit.  There were a couple of years under President Clinton when there was a surplus.  However, that seems to have been a blip on the radar, and very much an anomaly.

The government spends more than it brings in.  They’re the only level of government that is authorized to do so.  States, cities, townships and the like must all balance the budget.  The federal government does not have to do so.

And they don’t.

When a deficit is created, the government essentially issues bonds or bills and repay them down the road.  For decades, it seemed, people would worry about this.  They figured too many would devalue the dollar.  People worried that it could spark inflation.  Some worried what would happen if the market got saturated and there was no demand.

With all that, it was always thought that limiting or eliminiting deficits was the right idea.

I remember that budget deficits were a big point of most presidential elections as I was growing up.

Why No More Concern?

But it seems that the impact of budget deficits has waned.  Our deficit has exploded over the past fifteen years.  Yet, when the latest tax plan was introduced, the potential impact was nowhere near the top talking points.

So why is that? Why don’t budget deficits matter anymore?

Well, first, is that inflation seems to have really lowered the cost.  With inflation at historic low numbers, the government has to pay very little interest.  So, they can borrow practically for free.

Next, the demands for the US Dollar seems limitless.  Where many once feared too much debt could destabilize the dollar, that hasn’t happened.  At all.  It seems that as long as we issue debt, there are foreign countries willing to buy it.

Finally, I think it’s seen as an investment.  Cutting deficits would mean cutting programs and jobs. This would have a negative effect on the economy.  Some might argue that deficit spending has partially helped the economy chug along for the last ten years.  An argument could be made that cutting or reducing the deficit would be worse in the long run.

What’s Next?

I don’t have any idea how this plays out.  One could argue that there has to be a limit. However, you could also say that twenty years ago, the current deficits would have been unimaginable.  If George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton had suggested the deficits we have today, they’d have been run out of office in a hurry.

So, really, as far as what happens next, who knows?  It’ll be interesting to watch, though.

Readers, what do you think about the current federal budget deficits?  Do you think the current deficit spending is sustainable?  What about adding even more with the proposed tax cuts?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Why Donald Trump And Bernie Sanders Are Still Candidates

Seven months ago, I penned a post noting that I thought it was absolutely absurd that Donald Trump could actually be elected President.  While he still has a long way to go to be elected, he’s come a lot further than I had thought.  Seven months ago, I figured he’d be long gone by now, and predicted the Republican race would come down to…Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

Oops.

I’ve done some digging on why I was so wrong about Trump.

Why Trump and Sanders Are In The Race

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are two politicians, that in many years past, would have not come anywhere near making it this far.  Trump is loud, brash, offensive, and really has not dictated much of a plan if he were actually President.  Bernie Sanders is as close to a socialist as you can be without actually calling yourself one.

These are not the types that would strongly be considered President.

So why are they in it?  Well, in my opinion, it boils down to one thing, it’s all about the middle class and what they want from a President. Actually, no, that’s not right.  It’s about what they don’t want from a President.

The Middle Class Is On The Decline.

Since the mid-1980’s the middle class has pretty much been in a rut.  The middle class itself has shrunk and those left in the middle class have pretty much seen wage growth match or even come in under inflation.

I’ll even take it one step further.  Many people say that we’re in jeopardy of current generations being worse off then their parents.  I don’t think we’re in jeopardy.  I think we’re already there!

People doing effectively the same jobs are earning roughly the same pay as they did 30 years ago.  At first glance, this doesn’t seem all that bad, but then start to consider:

  • Pensions were in place for many workers in the mid-1980’s.  Now, most workers do not have a defined pension plan and must contribute a larger portion of their income to retirement than their 1980’s counterpart, just to keep pace.
  • Health care premiums and co-pays were often picked up in full or in large part by employer offered insurance.  Now, employees must contribute more both out of their paycheck to cover the plan, and at each doctor visit.
  • The stock market has gone up a lot, but the middle class hasn’t reaped the gains on par with their rich counterparts.  Consider that after the 2008-09 stock market crash, the market doubled, the rich, who had certainly lost money on the downswing, were able to recover their losses and then some, because they had a cushion of wealth that allowed them the opportunity to stay in the market.  Many middle class families lost their money on the way down, but were not able to get back in as they needed every cent just to try to keep afloat during the Great Recession.

The X-Factor: Redistribution of Wealth

So, from the items above, you can see that the middle class is getting squeezed.  That’s not the worst part, though.  The worst part is that the middle class is taking the brunt of it, but the rich have not.

During the entire period where the middle class continues to get squeezed and see a flat if not declining standard of living, the rich have seen their wages, their wealth, and their position continue to increase.

Effectively, many in the middle class see that there has been a redistribution of wealth, where money has flown from the middle class and to the rich.

The Middle Class Is Sick Of It (a.k.a. Why Trump and Sanders Are Here).

So, how does this tie into the presidential election and how Trump and Sanders are still legitimate candidates to become President?

Simple.  The middle class is sick of it.

The stagnation of the middle class has gone on for roughly eight presidential terms.  In that time, a Republican will have served 16 years and a Democrat will have served 16 years.  Every Presidential candidate has promised to take care of the middle class, and each party has had equal time to do so, yet over the last 32 years it hasn’t happened.  The middle class is sick of it.

mb-2015-08-trumpThe average person works for roughly 30-40 years before retiring.  That means that most of the work force in place today has gone through their entire careers with this stagnation of the middle class in place.  Entire careers from start to finish have gone by.  The middle class is sick of it.

Wage Growth Is Absent.

Real wage growth in the middle class is largely stagnant.  But it’s not for the rich.  How many CEOs and executives and other rich folks get huge raises and big bonuses, while the middle class gets a puny increase or none at all?  Do people realize what message this sends? I’ll tell you.

When Henry Ford effectively created the explosion of the middle class, the workers and people were made to feel important.  It was by their hard work that the country grew and there was recognition by the rich that, in fact, their prosperity would not have been possible but for the hard work of the middle class.  There was appreciation and with appreciation came the middle class being made to feel important.  Come time to divvy up the fruits of their labors, the middle class had a seat at the table.  Now, when the rich get the rewards and the middle class get scraps, it sends a message that the middle class is unimportant.  The middle class has effectively been marginalized and is sick of it.  That was not Henry Ford’s dream.

Can They Deliver?

People don’t know whether Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders and their outrageous ideologies could actually work.  Most people actually don’t believe they will.  But, at least they’re different.  The middle class is getting desperate.  They know that these last 32 years haven’t been great to them.  The can read the tea leaves enough to know that there is more of the same ahead.  They know that Trump or Sanders probably won’t really be able to change all that much, but at least there’s a slight chance, right?  Otherwise things just stay the same.  And the middle class is sick of the same.  Look how desperate the middle class is for change that even this type of crazy is now the chance we’re willing to take.

It’s Anyone’s Guess, Now.

I read a lot about the election and all of it makes me cringe a little.   I’ve heard that the Democrats would love Trump getting nominated because that would mean a clear path to the White House for their candidate.  They forget that Trump has overcome the odds to get this far.  I’ve heard that the Republicans loved the idea of Sanders getting nominated because no way would the general election see a socialist get elected.  Again, have we not learned so far from this election season that darn well anything is possible?

I really don’t know what’s going to happen now.  No idea.  I know whatever it is, it’s likely going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  Buckle in for the ride!

Readers, what do you think?  Do you think that some of the candidates have made it this far simply because they’re different?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Could Donald Trump Actually Be President?

By now, I’m sure that everybody knows that Donald Trump has been leading many polls for who people would vote for if the election for the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee were held today.  This upsets many people, causes our understanding and appreciation of Democracy to be brought into question, and has made Americans the butt of many a joke.

So could ‘The Donald’ actually be President?  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for yes and reasons for no and come back to answer at the end (or you could just skip ahead).

Reasons President Trump Could Happen

Name Recognition

I’m 40 years old and I have memories of Donald Trump in some form or another for at least 20-30 years.  I religiously watched early seasons of ‘The Apprentice’ until the repetition made me (and tens of millions of other fans) drift away.  Before that, he had his name all over buildings in cities around the world, and was not afraid of the camera.  Compared to just about any other candidate out there, Donald Trump by and far is the most well known name.

He’s Getting Face Time

I seem to remember reading somewhere that this is the largest pool of candidates in the Republican party in decades, or maybe ever.  So with that said, you’d expect that media coverage would be fractured, but that’s not the case at all.  Any mention of the Presidential race these days inevitably includes Donald Trump.  He’s everywhere!

People Listen To Him

Let’s face it, when Donald Trump speaks, people listen.  There are many out there mb-2015-08-trumpwho can’t stand him and only listen to see who he’ll insult next, but the fact is they’re still listening!  And if people are listening, it means people are talking.

He Speaks What He Believes

You may not believe in what Donald Trump says or what he believes in, but one thing that he demonstrates is that when he does open his mouth and talk about something, he does so because he believes it.  Many other Republicans seem to believe what their party says is the right thing to believe, or they’re against something simply because Obama and other Democrats like it.  Donald Trump isn’t going to check with the party leadership before issuing a statement, you can be sure of that.

He Entertains People

Quick, name three contestents on the non-Celebrity version of The Apprentice.  Across any seasons.  Most people probably can’t.  The Apprentice was one of the most popular TV shows out there for a while, and it was all because of Trump.  He has entertainment value and while the President isn’t meant to entertain, the election talk at this point in the game holds little more than entertainment value.

There’s Precedent

Could an entertainer ever hold office?  A reality TV show host?  Or maybe….an actor?  Yes, we’ve already had a former entertainer hold office, and history largely thinks that he did a pretty good job.

Reasons Trump Won’t Get Elected

He’s Alienated Too Many

I’m pretty sure that most Mexican Americans won’t be voting for Trump.  He’s also made disparaging remarks about quite a few other classes of people that would likely vote against him or stay home.

His Numbers May Have Peaked

Other candidates will have the opportunity to grow their numbers as they try to introduce themselves, whereas I see Trump already has anybody he will likely have even down the road, and in the end, that might not be enough to get him to where he needs to be when it really counts.

The Field Will Shrink

Remember how I said that the current crop of Republicans is really big?  Before long that will start to consolidate.  Today, five of the candidates might be splitting the vote that will eventually go toward the last candidate remaining of the five.  Once actual primaries and such start taking place, the field will consolidate.

Today Means Nothing

I’ll be honest, I’m not following the 2016 election at all.  Not a single bit.  When I see Trump or anyone else talking, I tune out.  Why? Because not a single thing of what’s being said today will matter when votes start being cast.  Issues, even the big ones, rise and fall in importance within a few months.  Even if there are people agreeing with everything that Trump is saying today, that could change by voting day.

The Election Is Too Far Out

The Presidential election is fifteen months out.  That’s a crazy amount of time away.  In 2012, Michelle Bachman was a leading candidate with over a year to go.  In 2008, Hilary Clinton was practically handed the nomination when things first got started.  Remember in 1991 when George Bush had something like an 80% approval rating after Iraq was annihilated by the US-led forces in the Gulf War, and he was a shoo-in for re-election?  The bottom line is that the election is too far out to matter.  The election cycle starts earlier and earlier, but the fact remains that it just adds a bunch of meaningless time to the front of the whole thing.

So Can Trump Be President?

My opinion, in a word, is no.  I think that Trump is someone that the networks can throw on TV and get people to watch.  I don’t believe that will last.  The novelty value of Trump will fade around the time that people start paying attention to issues that matter to them.  Trump will slowly get left out of those conversations.

My early predictions: I will only narrow down to four candidates, two on each side.  On the Democratic side, I think it will be between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  On the Republican side, I think it will be between Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

Of course, as we all know, it’s way too early to tell!

Readers, what do you think of Donald Trump and his chances to be President next year?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.