Frustrated Gov. Whitmer vows no more ‘games’ with GOP on fixing Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at State of the State

SLIDESHOW: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her second annual State of the State Address at the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday, telling Republicans she’ll fix the state’s problems if they won’t. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Whitmer

SLIDESHOW: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joked with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, during the speech, but took aim at GOP inaction on a host of issues. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Whitmer

SLIDESHOW: Members of the Michigan Supreme Court applaud as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enters the Michigan Capitol to begin her second State of the State speech on Wednesday.  (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

SLIDESHOW: Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack applaud during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s second State of the State speech. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Whitmer

SLIDESHOW: House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, listens as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer criticizes the state GOP during her second State of the State speech on Wednesday. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

SLIDESHOW: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and House Speaker Lee Chatfield pause from her State of the State speech on Wednesday to recognize a young man who voluntarily filled potholes in his neighborhood. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

LANSING — Frustrated by inaction in a divided government, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday vowed to work around Republicans if necessary to solve some of Michigan’s biggest problems.

In her second State of the State speech, the Democratic governor said she’d fix state roads without the help of Republicans, protect the Affordable Care Act the national GOP is working to dismantle and circumvent an unpopular law they created that threatens to hold back 5,000 third-graders.

Bemoaning that legislative leaders didn’t work with her last year on serious road funding proposals, Whitmer unveiled a plan to borrow $3.5 billion over three years to fix state trunkline roads that doesn’t require approval of the GOP-led Legislature.

“For those of you who want to keep playing games, I’m going to press on without you,” she said during the 40-minute speech. “I’m going to use the power of my office to do what I said I was going to do.”

    Republicans were quick to condemn Whitmer’s speech, with Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox calling it “more of the same empty promises for the future.”

    The roads plan is "taxation without representation and it’s absolutely wrong,” Cox told reporters Wednesday night. “She’s being disingenuous when she said that the Legislature wouldn’t work with her."

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    Here are big takeaways from Whitmer’s speech:

    $3.5 billion in road bonds over five years

    After a first year marked by stalemate over a 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, Whitmer’s centerpiece proposal would sidestep the Legislature by issuing $3.5 billion in bonds over five years for roads and bridges.

    The proposal wouldn’t raise taxes, but it would generate far less money than her gas tax hike, which would have raised $2.5 billion per year.

    “It’s time for Plan B,” Whitmer said Wednesday. “The problem remains. In fact, it’s worse because another year has passed. Michigan roads are among the most beat up and dangerous in the country.”

    Bonding would require the state to take on significant debt and the revenue could only be able to be used on highways and interstates rather than local roads. 

    More than a quarter of Michigan highways are in poor condition, but others are worse — 41 percent of all federally funded paved roads in the state and 53 percent of state- and locally funded roads are in poor condition. 

    Republicans criticized the plan as a fiscally risky move that won’t provide stable funding 

    “This is not a long-term solution for our roads, simply taking out a loan and passing it on to our children,” Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield said. “I can’t take seriously as a long-term proposal.”

    The spending is expected to be considered Thursday at the State Transportation Commission meeting.

    Put Affordable Care Act changes in Michigan state law

    A challenge to the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. If it gets struck down, it would be “disastrous for our state and devastating for our people,” Whitmer said.

    There are nearly 400,000 Affordable Care Act participants in Michigan and nearly 670,000 people on Healthy Michigan. The administration said more than 1 million people would lose insurance if the ACA were struck down. 

    Whitmer said she hopes to protect against the possibility it will get struck down by getting lawmakers to include some elements of the federal law in state law. 

    Among those protections could be rate safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions and barring gender discrimination from insurance companies; coverage for mental health disorders and addiction treatment; coverage for “essential health benefits” such as immunizations, hospitalization and birth control. 

    Any protections would have to be approved at least in part by Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of the Legislature. 

    Sen. Curtis Vanderwall, a Ludington Republican who chairs the Health Policy and Human Services Committee, said he’s willing to consider the governor’s health care proposals despite his distaste for the Affordable Care Act. 

    “Pre-existing conditions absolutely should be covered,” he said. “I don’t think any of us argue that part, but some of the other things she talked about became very regional very quick. The access to carrier issue in northern Michigan, my thought is if we’re going to attack those we need to be able to run them statewide.”

    Rep. James Lower, R-Greenville, who sits on the House Health Policy Committee, also said he’d “definitely give it strong consideration.”

    Third-grade reading exemptions

    As Bridge Magazine first reported early Wednesday, Whitmer used her speech to unveil an initiative designed to undercut Michigan’s new third-grade reading law by helping struggling students avoid flunking and advance to the fourth grade. 

    The Whitmer administration is partnering with philanthropic foundations to help teach parents about exemptions to retention that are built into a law signed by her predecessor, Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder. 

    “This punitive law could be a nightmare for families, and this initiative will give parents and students the resources and support they need to get through it,” Whitmer said. “We can get ahead of this problem if we start early.”

    The Michigan Department of Education estimates that 5,000 third-graders could be flagged for retention on the basis of the M-STEP test they will take this spring. 

    While details of the effort remain unclear, conservative groups who pushed for the third grade reading law as an accountability measure criticized the apparent attempt to help parents find workarounds. 

    “Michigan’s third-grade reading law provides students with the resources and supports they need to read at grade level before they leave the 3rd grade, and the governor’s aggressive attempts to undermine the law will cost many the chance at a brighter future,” said Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project.

    Groups backing the parental education initiative include the Battle Creek Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the Max and Marjorie Fisher Foundation, the Skillman Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

    Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, who chairs the education appropriations subcommittee, said Whitmer’s efforts to get around the law are ironic because she vetoed $15 million for summer reading programs to support third graders who didn’t pass the statewide exam.

    “We’re going to keep working,” Schmidt said. “I think the Legislature is more willing to work with her than she gives us credit for, and that’s a little frustrating.”

    Find ways to lower prescription drug prices 

    Whitmer announced she’ll create a Prescription Drug Advisory Task Force. Made up of five bipartisan lawmakers, the group will be expected to report on ways to make prescription drugs more affordable by Aug. 15. 

    The task force will be asked to recommend ways to require more transparency from drug companies, report on the impact of expensive prescription drugs and explore what economic factors impact pricing. 

    According to the administration, marketing and advertising make up more than 30 percent of drug costs, while research and development make up only 17 percent. 

    Lawmakers are already exploring one way to potentially bring prices down by making it easier for Michiganders to import drugs from Canada, where they’re less expensive. Other states have introduced and passed legislation exploring other ways to bring costs down.

    Expanded child care access, mom supports

    Whitmer announced a push to expand access to child care subsidies and expand health care coverage for low-income moms. She’s expected to propose funding for the initiatives in the 2021 budget she presents to lawmakers next week.  

    Her child care plan would allow more families to qualify for subsidies by raising the annual income limit from 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent. That means a family of four could earn up to $39,300 and still qualify for the program, up from $34,060.

    The governor’s “healthy moms, healthy babies” proposal would provide low-income moms with up to a full year of health care coverage after they give birth. Whitmer also wants to ensure new moms are guaranteed coverage for a postpartum visit within three weeks and a comprehensive medical checkup within 12 weeks. 

    The governor said she is also seeking new protections to let a woman “choose birth control that works for her” and increased access to substance abuse, mental health and home visitation programs for new moms. 

    “This will make a crucial difference for new moms and for the youngest Michiganders” she said. “And we’ll make an intensive effort to eliminate the disparities in care — for new moms of color especially. Because right now, black women in Michigan are three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes. That is a staggering disparity.”

    The funding of those proposals will be key, said Vanderwall, who questioned whether debt service payments for the governor’s new road funding plan will limit available revenues for other initiatives. 

    Lack of access to child care “is one of the biggest issues we have in northern Michigan,” the Ludington lawmaker said. “In theory, I’m very supportive.”

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    Comments

    Kudos
    Wed, 01/29/2020 - 8:22pm

    So inspirational, compassionate, determined.

    Kris
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:51am

    Here is how the math works: Public Act 51 sets the funding distribution formula for most transportation revenue. 39.1% goes to state roads, 39.1% goes to county roads, and 21.8% goes to cities. When Governor Whitmer borrows $3.5 billion unilaterally, and without legislative approval, it can only be spent on state roads, NOT local nor city roads! That means our local and city roads will be in worse shape. But that's not the worst news! Just wait.
    The law requires that debt payments be made first! This means that the Governor Whitmer's new bond loans will result in annual loan payments of a little more than $300 million per year. That's $300 million that won't go into the road funding formula for local roads next year. And remember - Governor Whitmer vetoed over $300 million in road funding last year too!
    Our counties won't see a penny of the borrowed monies and now will lose more off the top to the loan repayments for the next 25-30 years! The state of Michigan is still paying off the road bonds used by Governor's Engler and Granholm to help "fix the damn roads."

    Novel Idea
    Mon, 02/03/2020 - 1:07pm

    Then maybe the legislature should do its job. The roads got so bad with 8 years of total republican government control. Now local governments will have to fix local roads. That's a republican idea, local control for local issues. Don't blame the governor for taking a republican approach when the republicans are offering no proposals or action, other than obstruction and inaction.

    abe bubush
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:29am

    "Shirkey the shirker" and "All talk" Chatfield need to cave to the needs of the people, which is exactly what Whitmer is addressing. The republicans are shameful in their obstruction of the proper and necessary improvements to the state offered by Governor Whitmer.

    Rick
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:26pm

    Where is the Republican solution for our roads? Can anyone link it for us? I've been hearing this from the GOP for decades and yet nothing ever gets done! I listened to the Republican Governor candidates and they had NO solution at all for our roads. Not one thing from any candidate. They simply didn't want to talk about because they didn't have anything.
    Our GOP road fix plan must be in the same place as the national GOP's Obamacare replacement. Up in the stratosphere somewhere. We need plans 'where the rubber meets the roads' not fuzzy dreams.
    But the national GOP created $1 trillion in new debt by giving away our money to the super wealthy and big corporations. Funny how they care about debt when there's a Democratic President and then forget all that as soon as there's a Republican in the White House.

    Matt
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 7:18pm

    Not that you'd notice but small businesses got a big cut in taxes and lower income tax payers all saw declines in their tax bills too! Not sure of other than typical propaganda purposes of your fixation on "super wealthy and big corporations".

    David Andrews
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:35am

    From above: "Frustrated by inaction in a divided government, Gov Gretchen Whittmer … vowed to work around Republicans... ...and she’d fix state roads without the help of Republicans, …"

    So this governor is so frustrated with divided government that she is going to further divide it?

    And our response should be?

    Mary
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 3:55pm

    So the Repubs had control of the gov't from 2011 to 2017 and couldn't get anything done. What makes you think they have the desire to truly cooperate with a Democratic governor? For Repubs compromise is a dirty word.

    Kris
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:38am

    Here is how the math works: Public Act 51 sets the funding distribution formula for most transportation revenue. 39.1% goes to state roads, 39.1% goes to county roads, and 21.8% goes to cities. When Governor Whitmer borrows $3.5 billion unilaterally, and without legislative approval, it can only be spent on state roads, NOT local nor city roads! That means our local and city roads will be in worse shape. But that's not the worst news! Just wait.
    The law requires that debt payments be made first! This means that the Governor Whitmer's new bond loans will result in annual loan payments of a little more than $300 million per year. That's $300 million that won't go into the road funding formula for local roads next year. And remember - Governor Whitmer vetoed over $300 million in road funding last year too!
    Our counties won't see a penny of the borrowed monies and now will lose more off the top to the loan repayments for the next 25-30 years! The state of Michigan is still paying off the road bonds used by Governor's Engler and Granholm to help "fix the damn roads."

    Disgruntled taxpayer
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:47am

    Whitmer to citizens: I don't believe in the process. I am unwilling to negotiate or compromise. I am above the law.

    Arjay
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 8:50am

    If Michigan had any credit rating, it will soon be in the toilet. Might be a good time to look into those road bonds. Nothing like a tax free muni bond at an above normal interest rate.

    Barbmark36
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 9:58am

    Weren’t Republicans in control of state government for eight years promising to fix what ailed education & infrastructure & did any of their efforts succeed? Enough, already. Allow new voices & perspectives in pursuit of making Michigan great again.

    Steve Schowiak
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 10:33am

    I had to look up the definition for 'recalcitrant'.

    Kathi Geukes
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 11:00am

    I've yet to hear any real plans from the Repuglican majority on how to fix the roads besides "oh her plans won't work".....bring something to the table besides your complaints or shut the hell up...work with her to come to a real fix for the roads...you see, I know a lot of people who were in favor of the gas tax....but that was shot down before anyone could take a survey on how the people out here...who actually pay their salary.....felt about it. My take is that most people would pay the tax....As long as it went to fix the roads and the only way to make that work is to have an outside company handle the money....of course with all the idiots that are in the majority....no amount of fixing the actual problem would be passed. Because the people are so tired of "politics" they turn away and don't pay attention. Which is why so many Rethugs have been in charge of our Great state since forever!!!! Time for a change people!!!!!!!

    Jon
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 11:29am

    This woman hasn't accomplished anything in her tenure. She talks a big talk, threatens the rights of citizens, promises to spend more money and accomplishes nothing. She is making a name for herself on the national stage, which in her party is clearly a comedy show at this point.

    Its time to vote her out.

    Joe
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 4:04pm

    Stop fixing the "D" word roads! Enough is enough. During construction there continues to be more and more projects happening along my commute. If there are any more construction projects, I may have to find another job as I will likely not be able to make it into work at a reasonable time. Also, Gov. Whitmer, please stop swearing in front of my children on TV. We are trying to set a good example for our children but it makes it more difficult when TV commercials show our leaders using choice language.

    Scott Roelofs
    Thu, 01/30/2020 - 5:46pm

    It is inherently wrong that any governor of any political party can authorize the issuance of billions of dollars of bonds that will saddle state taxpayers for decades to come. The lapdog AG Nessel will not oppose the governor, so opponents need to bypass her and go straight to the courts to stop this authoritarian power play.

    Bernadette
    Fri, 01/31/2020 - 9:17am

    Whitmer is doing the best she can under the circumstances. The MI GOP illegal governance (gerrymandering) over the past 10 years has left Michigan a laughing stock throughout the country. (Flint water crisis, emergency managers, school performance at its worst in many years, high poverty etc.)
    MI GOP leaders use the same strategies that 45 uses. Call names, blame others, degrade people, and refuse to collaborate. The hypocrisy and patriarchy is alive and well among the GOP.