Whitmer to Detroit chamber: ‘There is not enough pot to fill the potholes.’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday addressed the Detroit Regional Chamber, asking business leaders for their support for a 45 cent increase to the state’s gas tax. (Photo courtesy Detroit Regional Chamber)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stood before Detroit business leaders on Thursday clicking through slides that showed state declines in infrastructure repairs, education and water quality.

Huge charts from her 2020 budget proposal were projected on three walls as she paced on a stage at the MGM Grand ballroom in Detroit.

“We rank at bottom for education revenue growth … the bottom 20 for post-secondary (education) attainment … and drinking water is not only a problem in Flint,” she said.  

“We are not positioned to win the race much less be competitive.”

She called on Detroit’s business community to help persuade Republicans who control the state legislature to support her $60 billion budget proposal built on a historic 45-cent per gallon increase to the gas tax, one the governor said would cost an average motorist $23 a month and generate an additional $2.5 billion a year for the state.

“I got elected to solve problems. I need everyone who sees the wisdom here to be a part of this,” she said. “We have a Legislature that needs some support so they can make that one historic vote.”

Whitmer’s address to business leaders at the MGM Grand Detroit Hotel & Casino is part of a statewide tour to pitch the governor’s budget.

Whitmer faces steep odds. Lee Chatfield, Republican Speaker of the House, last week called the gas tax a “non-starter,” and is one among many in the GOP, which controls the state House and Senate, who say there are other revenue streams to tap before resorting to a tax increase.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, which sponsored Thursday’s event, said his organization generally supports the gas tax increase to fix the roads.

“We think it’s going to take $2.5 billion dollars a year,” he said. “If someone else can show us even half of that out of other elements of the state budget without having significant ramifications to real people, you’re smoking something that’s not legal.”

Other than political partisanship, the major hurdle Whitmer’s proposed budget faces is with the public, Baruah said. It could depend on whether state residents conclude that paying higher gas taxes will be cheaper than the car repairs caused by Michigan’s bad roads, he said.

“(The gas tax) is going to cost the average driver between two to three hundred dollars a year, that’s real money and people are going to balk at paying that. The question is: Are they paying more now when they hit a pothole and they have to fix their alignment and buy a new rim?

“I think the average right now is $600 that Michigan residents are paying now above what other states are paying to keep our cars maintained because of the bad condition of our roads.”

The governor told the crowd her budget intentionally tied big problems such as roads, education funding, the skills gap and improving drinking water to the gas tax.

“The gas tax is the linchpin to do all the things in the budget,” she said.

That means the legislature is set up to make one big vote that can fix several problems, she said.

Whitmer drew chuckles from the suited crowd when she was asked a question about the state’s marijuana tax revenues.

“There is not enough pot to fill the potholes,” she joked.

She drew applause when she noted her budget would increase funding for all schools, including a funding increase to the Detroit Public Schools Community District of $424 per student.

Whitmer’s budget also seeks to close the skills gap. Forty-four percent of Michigan residents have post-secondary degrees or certification, ranking Michigan in the bottom 20 states.

Lisa Howze, the former chief government affairs officer for City of Detroit, and current vice president for Detroit campuses at Davenport University, said she was glad to hear the governor talk about raising post-secondary skills attainment.

“The thing that resonated with me most is the idea of closing the skills gap,” Howze said. “In the state of Michigan I think her goals for 60 percent post-secondary educational attainment for all adults in the state by 2030 is good.”

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Fri, 03/15/2019 - 10:20am

Of course not that's why she shouldn't take away the funds coming from the general fund. The roads and new tax are just an excuse and means to redirect funds towards her supporters that the public wouldn't follow.

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 12:34pm

So your solution is? Continue to do nothing?
Some of us remember the wonderful $2.3 billion tax cut Snyder pushed through for businesses saying it would 'pay for itself'. It didn't. And we had a hole in our road budget. Nothing has been done since then. The GOP just keeps doing nothing. Nothing.
It's like a hole in your roof and you keep saying you don't need any new money to fix it since you don't have the money. So you just eventually wreck the house. Some solution.

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 9:34am

So you are contending that Michigan's economy/business cliamte hasn't improved since Granholn ? Not only in raw terms but relative to the nation as a whole? The biggest problem most companies have is finding employees to fill all the jobs, not just high end but even the most basic menial duties. As a first step, the biggest thing that can help Michigan including schools is attracting and retaining the most aspirational families rather than having them stream out of here as the did under your view of paradise.

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 11:31pm

Well said Rick. Nobody wants to be the bad guy who raises taxes but sometimes it's the best answer. The only answer unless you want to take money away from some other vital service.

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 11:31am

We have to bite the bullet and put Governor Whitmer's proposed gas tax into effect immediately. No more [costly] studies and denying that a hefty increase is necessary. Just make sure the gas tax increase goes solely to fix our roads; no diversions to Snyder-like giveaways to "friends and supporters" for projects of little value to all Michigan residents and to our economy. Just do it, for God's sake! Let's fix the damn roads NOW.

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 2:19pm

With the efforts automakers and Federal government are pursuing to increase sales of hybrid and all-electric vehicles a gas (and diesel? ) tax is a stop-gap at best. So are further increases in vehicle registration fees because of the much-heralded imminent arrival of autonomous vehicles to serve as taxis, leading to a significant reduction in personal vehicle ownership. Whitmer's plan calls for double the increases that Snyder asked for in 2015, over half the time frame for people to adjust their budgets. That feels to me like too big and too fast a change.
Another issue to consider is how fast could Michigan expand their capacity to do traffic engineering and road construction or repair? Yes, the need is great, but that is also true in other states. How much extra will we have to spend to ramp up MI-DOT and contractor capacity as fast as Whitmer's plan seems to call for? Is it even possible to do that, considering that degreed engineers take 2+ years to re-train in a new specialty or 4+ years to get a degree and modern road construction equipment has a 2-4 year wait from order to availability?
Right now, instead of Whitmer's plan to more than double the fuel tax, I would prefer to see a two-pronged approach to fixing Michigan's roads. One prong would be the imposition of a "miles driven" tax, assessed equally on each weight class of vehicles using Michigan's roads. The light vehicles pay at one rate, heavy vehicles at another, higher rate, and the ultra heavy trucks that require weight limit waivers would pay the highest per-mile rate. This would be and would remain much fairer than a fuel tax during the transition to widespread use of electric vehicles.
The second prong of my plan would take a page from Florida's fiscal policy handbook and set a state-wide requirement that developers, especially developers of commercial property, must pay for paving/repaving, widening, or updating intersections and crossings for all the roads that will serve their proposed development project out to 3-5 miles from the entrance to their site. This development fee would be paid to the relevant road authorities in increments from the start of the project through fixing any damage created by the construction process. Or perhaps the developer, who probably has ongoing relationships with contractors, could pay a state-approved road construction company directly. The construction companies would have to follow MI-DOT and local county standards and plans, and an independent authority would have to inspect the work in process. That policy will take significant spending pressure off local and county-wide road authorities.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 11:16am

The labor shortage is far far worse than civil engineers. For every engineer there are 30, 40, 50? people needed. Try telling one of our newly minted Poly Sci BAs that there's an opportunity spreading concrete and re-bar on our $2.5 billion dollars worth of road work she has in mind! Two things we can absolutely guarantee, the actual money raised by this tax will be far less than anticipated. Second, what we do try to do will cost far far more. This is what happens when you hire some career politician. Tossing $2.5 billion on an already tight market is a disaster waiting.

C, Smith
Fri, 03/15/2019 - 3:04pm

The 23$ a month quote is a complete manipulation. That may be the average cost specially relating to individual fuel purchases, but in no way does that number account for the increase in groceries and shopping that will be hit by increase shipping fees.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 2:01am

You got it, $23 a month is completely false and unrealistic.

Robert French
Fri, 03/15/2019 - 7:27pm

Here's another concept to think on, instead of squeezing more money out of the population, let's try making the state more attractive to bring corporations and jobs to the state, keeping people from leaving Michigan in droves for greener pastures in other states.

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 9:33pm

Dim Flint's water issues NOW, before you're given MORE $$$!!!

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 10:14am

Ed, Flint's water has been as safe as any system in the Midwest for at least the past 2 years. Any issues still remaining are due to Flint's insistence on pursuing the most expensive and long-lasting possible approach to replacing lead service lines, which are legally the responsibility of the property owner, not the city, and certainly not the state. But the state is footing the bill for Flint, and Flint's Mayor Weaver apparently cares more about keeping that gravy train of patronage running than she does about the poor people living in Flint.

Lost Bill
Fri, 03/15/2019 - 10:02pm

The additional revenues from the projected gas tax may be accurate, but her commitment to addressing a limited portion of the state infrastructure is counter productive when confronted by her own logic of comparing costs of road repair versus additional gas tax expense. She doesn't plan on addressing rural roads, yet tourism utilizes these roads just as much. I personally know several people who vacation out of state, bicycle out of state, etc. simply because our rural roads more closely resemble those of Kandahar than an American city of the 20th century.

This is just another indicator that, though well intentioned, Gov. Whitmer has surrounded herself with political hacks who have no practical experience or expertise in solving the problems they are assigned to address via policy construction. Her educational policy and staff advisory personnel are another example, as noted in the article. Educational achievement and attainment will not be addressed by the same methodology and policy the GOP and Dems have espoused for the past 25 years. How about hiring someone with REAL knowledge, experience, and creative initiative to handle these crucial issues, rather than awarding.lucrative contracts to political cronies. Same old, same old. This is why I have told my college educated children and former students to get the Hell out of Michigan while they still can.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 5:53am

Where did you tell them to go?

Kevin Grand
Sat, 03/16/2019 - 7:52am

Does anyone else find it odd that a governor who claims to be willing to listen to the public on her gas tax to nowhere, always seems to stage these grip-and-grin events where the general public isn't made aware of, until after the fact?

Of course business are supportive of the tax, business don't pay taxes (in fact they never did).

This is a tactic that politicians always turn to because they love fooling the ignorant.

The taxes that businesses "pay" are actually baked into the cost of the goods/services that they provide, meaning the consumer is the one doing the opening up their wallets just a little bit more.

Gov. Whitmer should just bite the bullet and acknowledge that her ideas aren't resonating with the majority of the public. A quick check of the statewide media will easily confirm this.

The entitlement crowd won't like it, but Michigan Motorists have paid enough already.

bargaining chai...
Sat, 03/16/2019 - 8:50am

Where is all the past tax monies raised to "fix the damn roads"? I am a Gretchen supporter but this "tax" situation is out of hand. (Remember, it must pass a republican house and senate) so I am lumping all you politicians together and asking, what are you really doing with my money?

Lee Rasavong
Sun, 03/17/2019 - 6:34am

Yea no sh. it even if the public agrees to pony up the money what guarantees do we have that the money is not going to the corrupt politicians pocket i live in michigan for 40 years and michigan is as corrupt as Mexico

Weed Warrior
Sat, 03/16/2019 - 11:20am

The solution is that we need MORE POT! Especially for construction, fuel, fiber, clothing, CBD, and reduction in health care costs for public employees.

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 11:35am

Is there any legislative support/action for a proposal such as Anna's? Her suggestions seem a more equitable way of paying for much needed road repairs, and wouldn't place a disproportionate burden on lower income people as I believe a flat gas tax would.

Timothy Janssen
Sat, 03/16/2019 - 11:52am

Yes, the roads need fixing. But an "across the board," flat gas tax increase is regressive and unfair. There are other, better ways to do this.

Chris Carpenter
Sat, 03/16/2019 - 12:21pm

First while running didn't Govenor Whitmer say even a 20 cent gas tax was ridiculous? Why did she lie to the voters?
In reality since Govenor Whitmer is shifting existing funds away from roads,
The first two tax hikes would increase the tax by 30 cents and bring in an additional $1.26 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year. But documents submitted by Whitmer as part of her executive budget recommendation on Tuesday indicate that the net increase to transportation funding will be just $764 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

In other words, $499.2 million — an estimated 40 percent of the $1.26 billion gas tax increase in 2020 — would not go to roads. Instead, it would replace current transportation budget dollars that would be redirected to pay for other state government spending.

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 11:47am

Finally somebody writing who understands this makes no sense

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 12:57pm

Why not just have toll roads instead of going after us 45tax on gas.

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 4:53pm

Here’s a thought. Hmmm what do other states do that Michigan has not done in a long long time? We are a joke to all other states when it comes to enforcing speed laws. Ohio, Indiana, yes even Illinois take credit cards on th side of the road. And guess what? They use those fines for roads. Pretty sad when I set up cruise control for 10 over everyday and get my doors blown off. Break the law and make travel unsafe, pay for it. Make the fines stiffer like the neighboring states. Anyone who has driven outside our state know exactly what I am talking about. Snyder was a speed demon, thus the 75mph zones up north. Speeders also burn through more fuel, thus Michigan higher fuel prices already than our neighbors. It’s a scam. Higher speeds, more fuel, more revenue. Think about that when you zip by the trooper not moving from the median when you are clocking 80 plus . Unpopular thought, but true non the less.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 1:56am

Don't forget, the full amount collected will come from the general public. Not just when you're paying at the pump, but when you pay for services from businesses.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 5:16am

It is not the only option. She knows PEOPLE THINK she should TAP into the Catastrophic Insurance FUND we Michigan Drivers pay into each year for No Fault Insurance. 45 cents tax increase on the middle class is USURY By Gov. Whither & You folks over at Bridge Magazine should tell her so on our behalf. How about a 50% split between the two potential revenue streams??

J. Noreus
Sun, 03/17/2019 - 6:34am

Offset vehicle repairs.... I dont have any vehicle repairs related to the road issues or potholes lady. My only vehicle expenses is normal maintenance. Brakes, and oil, filters, etc. Open your eyes, see what's in front of you and drive accordingly. And for a fact, 90 percent of Michiganders commute for work, I drive over 2 hours a day just to make my 40 hours a week. This gas tax would hurt most of us more then you think Gov. Whitmer!!

Agnosticrat 2.0
Mon, 03/18/2019 - 3:09pm

Move closer to work.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 8:54am

Take all the stamp sand from Buffalo Reef and all around there, and take the plastic that is filling the oceans/Great Lakes....boil that all together and make us our new roads!

Ronald Williams
Mon, 03/18/2019 - 4:03pm

Average worker making $10.50 AN HOUR!!!!! An millions of them voted you in, then you come, right out the gate an wanna CRIPPLE there budget!!!! You have any idea how many thousands of people have 2 figure out on Wednesday where 2 get gas money 2 get 2 work Friday an in many cases 2 get there on Thursday also?
There's other ways!!!! Them business LEADERS you talking 2, TAX THEM, THEY JUST RECEIVED A TRILLION DOLLAR WINDFALL from the Trumputin TAX SCAM!!
Just floors me how you come in an Immediately come after the little guy!

Cj gruden
Mon, 03/18/2019 - 6:33pm

Where is the money that was designated for our roads? If there is a tax, it should ALL to the roads!!!

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 5:30am

If they can't find the money were already being taxed for the roads that they said they were going to fix already then throw them all in jail for theft

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 11:00am

Just like the "socialist" ideas in vogue right now, solutions presented assume the government doesn't have enough money; if we just gave the government more money, everything will be fine. The Gov also is disingenuous (or ignorant) by not including the costs that will be passed onto consumers from higher gas taxes. The government has plenty of revenue but it is misspent and inefficient. If the government had the guts to address structural deficiencies and streamlined operations, then this would be a better environment for tax discussions. Unfortunately, by making financial promises to special interests over many years, they have painted themselves into a corner.

Ed Rod
Wed, 04/24/2019 - 12:07pm

Snyder raised the gas tax and the tag fees , what happened to that cash , also add in the pot tax to Snyders taxes and withdraw funds from the no-fault GIANT piggy bank , that should be plenty.