From the First Tuesday newsletter
Sign up for the newsletter and e-news
I want to share with you a highly personal story about the death of my daughter Rachel in May of 2015 when the train she was riding from Philadelphia to New York derailed. It derailed because Amtrak (funded in part by our federal tax dollars) hadn’t yet installed a proven emergency safety braking system.
This widely recognized technology would have stopped the train that was careening uncontrollably at high speed down the track. The technology to stop this accident from happening has been around for years. It just wasn’t installed. As a result, Rachel and seven others lost their lives needlessly. Eight people died who had dreams and families and futures. They didn’t have to die. It didn’t have to happen. My 4-year-old grandson would still have his mommy if someone had “invested in infrastructure.”
So why am I talking about this now so publicly? Because Michigan’s lack of investment in our state’s infrastructure in recent years is putting people’s lives at risk, from a giant sinkhole damaging homes in Fraser to toxic water endangering an entire community in Flint.
And instead of offering solutions and increasing investment, some lawmakers want to undermine state services and infrastructure even more. There are proposals in Lansing right now to eliminate or reduce the state income tax. I’ve been around Lansing and budgets for long enough to know that when taxes are cut it means cuts to schools, services, public safety and, yes, infrastructure—pipes carrying water to our homes, workplaces and hospitals; roads and bridges that are supposed to carry us safely to school and work and back home at the end of the day; school buildings that house our children for more than seven hours a day and more.
And bad things can and will happen unless we stop this thinking that all taxes are bad. Taxes protect our very lives, our children and our communities. They are the price for living in a democratic society where we must share the responsibility of people looking out for their neighbors, their neighbors’ children and parents.
We know what happened in Flint when a decision to save money by switching the city’s water source, and another appalling decision to save a few thousand dollars by not treating the pipes with a chemical to prevent lead from leaching into the water, exposed thousands, mostly kids and seniors, to toxic lead. The damage of these decisions will be felt for decades to come.
We know what happened in Flint when state health officials failed to test Flint’s water for Legionella or heed warnings of an outbreak as Legionnaires’ disease took the lives of a dozen people and sickened nearly 100, and pneumonia killed 177 Genesee County residents in 2014 and 2015.
And we know that what happened in Flint could happen again anywhere in Michigan and that other failing infrastructure is jeopardizing residents as we speak.
Please join me in letting our Legislature know that we can’t cut our way to prosperity—that our tax decisions can indeed be life-and-death decisions. I implore our elected officials to put a human context to their actions moving forward because there are real people behind all those budget numbers and decisions. Perhaps my daughter’s tragic death will not have been in vain if positive change can come as a result. Whether it’s at the state or federal level, government’s deadly mistakes must be resolved not repeated. Please tell your lawmakers to be responsible and think of the human beings that are behind their decisions. Tell them not to cut taxes or state services and instead use those dollars to invest in the very things that will provide a safer, better life for us all.
— Gilda Z. Jacobs