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Henry Cisneros and Suzanne Shank: A creative way to pay for infrastructure upgrades

Detroit Free Press

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A national spotlight is shining on Michigan. Unfortunately, instead of broadcasting the magnificence, beauty and strength of the state, and the comeback of its largest city, Detroit, the Flint water crisis has made Michigan “Exhibit A” in the case against shortsighted, dangerous decision-making. When it comes to infrastructure, the desire to save money in the short term can compromise our long-term health and safety, as well as our economic capacity. But there is a smarter way to invest in and maintain our infrastructure so that a crisis like this never happens again. If it is cliché to implore that we learn from a crisis such as Flint, it is far worse to simply continue on as if nothing ever happened.

Infrastructure demands long-term investment. The system of pipes delivering safe drinking water, the roadways and rail lines delivering goods to market and people to their livelihoods, the waterways and ports facilitating trade and commerce with the rest of the world form the backbone of our economy. However, this interconnected system that touches almost every aspect of our daily lives remains largely hidden in the background. While it is essential to each of us, infrastructure at its best functions smoothly and cleanly without much notice by the general public until a crisis occurs.

Yet it is too easy for the unnoticed to be taken for granted. Infrastructure failures remind us that we must proactively monitor our systems and invest in the future so that these systems enhance, rather than undermine, our economy and our lives.

Degraded infrastructure, sorely in need of investment, coupled with pressure on public budgets and the public unwillingness to pay increased taxes, creates a perfect storm — one that presents tremendous pressure on elected officials to trade long-term community safety and security for short-term fiscal health.