By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, March 6, 2019
The state government in Lansing has a new leader, and she is prioritizing issues that will improve the lives of state residents and put more people to work in jobs that can support a family.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined an agenda for Michigan last month in her State of the State address, one that stressed the importance of the state investing in improved infrastructure as well as job training programs that will better prepare Michiganders in the workforce. The Legislature would be wise to approve it.
For too long, the Great Lakes State has been taken to task for the dire conditions of its transportation and water facilities. It’s time for that to stop. These are not partisan problems, and should not be treated as such. That means it’s time for elected officials to problem solve and pass an agenda that will help their constituents.
As governor herself noted, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated Michigan’s overall infrastructure only a D+. Drinking water rated a D, while roads a D-. But those ratings are downright rosy compared to another assessment that found the state had the worst roads in the nation.
Pothole-ridden roads aren’t just an inconvenience. They cost motorists money and they endanger their lives. But they also have an effect on the economy. Poor transportation infrastructure slows commerce, drives up prices and pollutes the air. It’s unacceptable.
When it comes to water, Michigan residents know what’s at stake all-too-well. While lead and copper contamination have fallen in the last four years in Flint, the problem of clean drinking waters doesn’t end there. This state is home to more than a fifth of the world’s fresh water, yet old pipes jeopardize its availability.
The gains from making such investments go beyond the better roads and the increased availability of potable water that would result. Rebuilding, repairing and reinvestment is also about rebuilding and repairing the trust between government and workers by reinvesting in the people that have and can continue to make Michigan great. Better pay will lead to more spending and improve our quality of life. That way everyone wins.
The same can be said when it comes to beefing up efforts to have a 21st century workforce. Gov. Whitmer is rightfully setting her sights on closing the skills gap. To that end, she set a goal of increasing the number of state residents with some form of post-secondary credential from the current 40 percent to 60 percent by 2030.
Her plans to train adults for in-demand skills to help their job prospects in badly needed. And the creation of the MI Opportunity Scholarship, which gives graduating high school students who qualify two years of debt-free community college, is the hand up that many disadvantaged young people desperately need.
There was a time when building infrastructure and improving job training weren’t political issues – they were American values, something everyone could support. Michigan has an opportunity to return to that era right now. Both issues present an opportunity to break political gridlock. Now it’s time to for lawmakers to follow the governor’s lead and make it happen.