Street Talk

Street Talk: Road to nowhere

Tail-waggers.

June 12, 2015
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Never let it be said that Michigan residents are ambivalent about the condition of the state’s roads.

Legislation championed by Speaker Kevin Cotter passed through the Michigan House last week, and the responses ranged from angry to downright vitriolic.

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place Inc., expressed dismay that politicians think it’s a good idea to take funding from economic development initiatives to repair the state’s infrastructure.

The response of Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, called legislators’ actions the “wrong direction for Michigan” and pointed out the state needs a permanent, long-term solution to road repair “without raiding the General Fund.”

Those politically correct responses were a polite way of saying the plan won’t work.

Then there’s the politically incorrect response.

“The only thing more irresponsible than this legislation is the sophomoric Speaker who introduced it,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the activist group Progress Michigan.

“This plan relies on hopes and dreams and still doesn't raise the revenue needed to fix our roads, all while punishing the working poor in a way only the Michigan GOP could dream of. Speaker Cotter and those who supported this rubbish should be ashamed of themselves.”

Tell us how you really feel, Lonnie.

But what about the “regular businessman,” the person who lives and works in Michigan and has little access to the movers and shakers and Lansing? What’s his opinion?

Glad you asked. Last time Street Talk touched on the road repair subject, Steve Langeler, vice president of Michwave Technologies, weighed in with a “normal” perspective not tied to political debate or rhetoric.

“Another mistake that is being made regarding Michigan roads is living beyond our means. Going from a gravel, dusty road to a nice, smooth, wide paved road is wonderful. It's wonderful to drive a Cadillac too, but until I can afford to pay cash and maintain it, I'm going to have to make do with a Chevy (which are looking pretty good these days).”

He believes that “household budget” strategy should be applied in Lansing, too. It’s more a case of “want” versus “need.”

“M-45 through Allendale is a classic example: wide boulevards, pretty bushes, beautiful trees, and grass to keep watered, fertilized and mowed. And while you are driving down this beautiful road, notice the houses and yards along both sides don't look as good as the boulevard.

“This is an ongoing pattern with just about everything the government (local and national) touches. Pretty soon the economy can't support the cost of the infrastructure, folks can't make ends meet, and the ‘extra’ money isn't there.”

He pointed out the cost of redoing a road, percentage-wise, has multiplied several times from what it was 40 years ago, and the tax burden on residents continues to grow. In fact, Langeler points to “over taxation” and “greed” as the root cause for the demise of every civilization since the beginning of time, and the road situation is just “a hint of the underlying problem.”

“Let’s make a business case of what percentage of the allocated funds (whatever that means) that are for the roads goes to overhead and administration costs. Let’s find out where the leak is,” he said.

“I know the guy out there with a shovel of hot asphalt isn't getting paid six figures, and there are a bunch of guys rotting in prison that could be getting a little exercise.

“Fixing roads would be a great way for college kids to work off student debt. Building a work ethic with high school kids isn't a sin or child abuse, contrary to some opinions.”

He’s also an advocate of encouraging (not demanding or making another law) truckers to keep their wheels in balance instead of beating up the pavement with out-of-balance tires. Little things add up.

“MDOT could have a quick response team to make quick patches to an emerging pothole situation instead of letting it go to the point of being a dangerous hazard to a vehicle,” Langeler said.

“There's too many being paid to sit at a desk talking about the problem instead of grabbing a shovel and getting the job done ...” he added. “I know, that's not in your job description ... and that's another part of the problem! Poor roads and the perception of poor roads is the face of where the problems really lie.”

So there you have it from a common business person responsible for watching every penny at home and at work.

Coming through

The goodness in West Michigan never ceases to amaze.

Two recent charity events are perfect examples.

Wedgwood Christian Services’ golf outing at Egypt Valley Country Club raised $230,000 to support innovative programs and services to the growing number of at-risk and hurting kids and families in West Michigan, according to Alison Lisiak, advancement coordinator at Wedgwood.

She said this was the most successful golf outing in the event’s 30-year history.

Not to be outdone, the officials from the 10th Annual Bissell Blocktail Party announced last week they, too, surpassed their initial fundraising goal — which was $500,000! — to help save pets in West Michigan.

On June 9, upwards of 900 party-goers and their four-legged friends convened on the lawn of Mangiamo! restaurant. Thanks to great weather and beautiful sunshine, the party was a smashing hit, raising half a million dollars to support the Bissell Pet Foundation.

“The stars aligned for us this year,” said Cathy Bissell, founder of the Bissell Pet Foundation and creator of the Bissell Blocktail Party.

“We had the perfect storm — without the storm. We knew we wanted to raise more money, but never imagined we would double funds raised from last year. We could not have done it without the amazing support from our volunteers and, most importantly, our community.”

Bissell said the record-breaking evening went to the dogs in so many ways.

Pooches dined on tasty “yappetizers,” drank from over-sized dog bowls and posed for pictures with their much taller best friends. Mangiamo was transformed into a pet paradise by Grand Rapids’ top designers. Event participants also were treated to caricatures of their pets drawn by local 2010 ArtPrize winner Chris LaPorte and were invited to bid on one-of-a-kind silent auction items.

The Blocktail committee attributed much of the event’s success to the many generous sponsors.

Top sponsors kicked off their Sunday shoes and were treated to a special private concert with a celebrity guest band at the VIP Sponsor Party June 8. The Blocktail Eve evening raised nearly $60,000 of total funds during its live auction.

“This event has been part of our community for 10 years and we hope we can show a significant reduction in the number of pets in need of homes in the next 10 years,” said Heather Garbaty, co-chair of the event. “Everyone who attended the party or supported our cause came through to make a difference for pets. That’s why this party is so special.”

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