Skubick: 2 things that could be in the commercials against the sales tax hike

It's been a lousy couple of weeks for the embattled state transportation director. 

His major assignment these days is to somehow help his boss, the governor, cobble together enough votes to pass the sales tax hike to fix the roads.  

MDOT head Kirk Steudle is giving it the ole college try, but his own department has gummed-up the works pretty good.  

The last thing he wants is to hand the anti-tax crowd any ammo to use against the ballot question. He's given them two bullets.

First there was the state audit report chastising the department for not following up on road warranties. Turns out six warranties with road builders lapsed before the inspectors reviewed the work. The auditor suggests if the money is not recouped from those builders the state will be stuck with a repair tab of about $314,000. The director says he will try to do that.

Well you can imagine what the lawmakers said when they discovered this miscue.  

Mr. Steudle was put on the hot seat. But before he got out of the hot seat, Paul Mitchell, who is running one of the No vote campaigns on the tax, piled- on suggesting that if the department had done its due diligence in a timely fashion, there would have been more money for road fixes without having to dip into the pockets of taxpayers.

Director Steudle reveals that only 4 percent of the warranties were not reviewed and he promises, "we can do better" and he says he will.

But the damage was done.

Then came the Detroit Free Press which discovered some passenger rail cars sitting in a rail yard in Owosso just collecting snow. They were leased by the state five years ago in anticipation of offering passenger service from Detroit to Ann Arbor and then up to Howell and back. You may have noticed the trains are not running because the project is only a concept. And there sit those rail cars costing the state a pretty $1.1 million a year.

Well you can imagine what the lawmakers said when they discovered that miscue.

Mr. Steudle was peppered with 37 questions during one hearing and now he's given his department 30 days to fix this mess. He's got several options including canceling the lease.

But the damage was done as the anti-tax folks latched onto that story, too.  Just one more reason to vote no, they asserted.

The good news is the voting public may forget about all this by the time May 5 rolls around for the statewide vote. Unless, of course, the other guys, turn all this into a commercial just to remind them.
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