Camilleri: Prioritize Roads, Education Policy Now

In one of the more head-scratching moves from the state legislature recently, members passed a bill to make English the official language of the state of Michigan, begging the question: Was there really nothing else the legislature could resolve instead?

Of course, anyone who has been in a vehicle and driven somewhere in the past several weeks knows the answer to that question: This year has been considered, even by some mechanics, one of the worst years for potholes in recent history. And it’s not just potholes. In some areas of Southeast Michigan, for instance, entire stretches of roads have been shut down due to flying debris hitting vehicles.

Enter Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township), who took to Twitter to express his frustration over the last-minute decision by the Republican majority last week to declare English the official language of Michigan rather than work just about any other issue people are actually talking about in their communities.

“I have not had a single constituent say, ‘please, please make English the official language,’ of the state of Michigan,’” Camilleri, 26, said in an interview with Great Lakes Beacon.

Camilleri, asked how or why this issue – which was not on a tentative agenda for the state House came up – said that some had speculated because of the rally around gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that “they may have wanted a distraction,” he said.

“They’re creating non-issues to distract the public’s attention from not fixing the roads, from keeping our kids safe, having good healthcare, or that we’re (not) adequately funding our schools,” he said.

Perhaps ironically, Camilleri, just days after tweeting about potholes and flooding, fell victim to a blown tire that came as a result of a pothole. He said he estimated his final cost for that incident – which included buying a new tire and towing, because the tire couldn’t simply be replaced – came to about $350, though he said he has heard the average is about $500 per person.

Asked what top three issues other than infrastructure he thought the legislature could work on, he said infrastructure and road funding still has to be the top one, regardless. He acknowledged the legislature recently passed a $175 million appropriation for emergency road funding, but he and his fellow Democrats fought for more than was finally agreed upon.

“It was one of those moments where we know this is a problem and we’re thankful we’re addressing it, but we need more money,” Camilleri said. “The governor’s own commission has said we need $4 billion for a year for infrastructure.”

Michigan has long invested substantially less in public infrastructure, which includes roads, than other states, but indeed, a report at the end of 2016 by the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission found that Michigan spent $470 per capita compared with the national average of $795 per capita when it came to the matter.

But Camilleri said the people he talks to are willing to spend extra money if it means they’ll get better roads, especially when that priority stacks up against others.

“People are willing to spend money to fix their roads instead of spending money on tax breaks and serving the wealthiest in our country,” he said.

Aside from the obvious choice of figuring out a better way to fund Michigan’s flailing infrastructure, Camilleri, a teacher prior to coming to the state legislature, said the next discussion he’d rather have had on the House floor was how to more adequately fund public schools.

He pointed to a recent report by several nonprofits that found Michigan should be spending around $2,000 more per pupil than it does currently. That’s an increase from a previously stated $1,200, Camilleri noted. To that end, he has himself introduced a resolution to ensure that education and literacy is assured as a civil right and sponsored legislation to expand income eligibility for the Great Start Readiness Program (which allows certain children to enroll in state-funded preschool programs), among other legislation.

Camilleri also said the state could stand to focus separately on addressing mental health resources and the state’s opioid crisis, as well as just about any other major issue facing Michigan.

“(Majority Republicans) can bring something up whenever they want. They don’t always follow their own order or best practices,” he said.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson