Michigan could be losing out on jobs and economic growth thanks to inadequate investment in infrastructure, said Mike Nystrom, Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and Janice Beecher, MSU's Institute of Public Utilities, who spoke at Capitol Issues Forum Feb. 16 on findings and recommendations of Gov. Snyder's 21st Century Infrastructure Commission.
Potential businesses looking to relocate or expand to the area are concerned about Michigan's infrastructure which may negatively impact the choice they make. Nystrom stated that how Michigan treats its businesses and citizens is measured in terms of the quality of its infrastructure.
Infrastructure improvements will cost $4 billion, increasing to between $6 to $10 billion dollars in the next several years, Nystrom said, while also explaining that the $4 billion price tag is not paid up front, but affordably over a period of years. The infrastructure commission recommendations covered water, utilities, roads and education, as well as strategies to achieve improvements such as coordinated asset management and planning.
Michigan spends about six percent of its budget on infrastructure, lower than the national average of about 10 percent. Michigan has cut back on the funding given to local municipalities, and now many rely on millages to close the infrastructure funding gap. Future infrastructure funding may be more difficult as revenue shared from carbon or gasoline taxes will shrink in a world of green technology advancements.
The Flint water crisis and the Fraser sinkhole have also raised awareness of ongoing infrastructure needs, Nystrom said, and other Michigan communities do not want to become the "next Flint". Even so, if a community has no noticeable issues, infrastructure is usually "out of sight, out of mind," he noted.
Beecher noted that public safety and public health are all affected by infrastructure. About 25 percent of Michigan beaches experienced closures in 2015 due to unprecedented contamination, and approximately five billion gallons of raw sewage on average has been dumped into the Great Lakes and its tributaries every year since 2008. Closures can also be lethal for local Michigan economies that rely on tourism to fund city operations for the remainder of the year. Beecher concluded her remarks by asking, "What do we want our Michigan to look like to all who see us?"