Whitmer and GOP agree $3.5B won’t fix Michigan roads, swap blame on funding


During her second State of the State address Wednesday night, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said issuing $3.5 billion in bonds is “Plan B” after GOP leaders ignored her gas tax proposal and offered no reasonable plans of their own. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

LANSING – Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican leaders agree on one thing: Her $3.5 billion roads plan won’t provide long-term funding for needed repairs. 

But after nearly a yearlong stalemate on the issue, they say it’s now largely up to the other side to find a permanent solution. 

During her second State of the State address Wednesday night, Whitmer said issuing $3.5 billion in bonds is “Plan B” after GOP leaders ignored her gas tax proposal and offered no reasonable plans of their own. 

“If the Legislature won’t come to the table, I’m going to still roll up my sleeves and get to work,” Whitmer told reporters Thursday morning, adding the funding only addresses highways and not local roads, so additional localized and long-term funding is necessary. 

“I’m hopeful that the Legislature will get serious about moving forward, I’m eager and happy to engage in those talks whenever they are.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said they offered several solutions that were rejected by Whitmer, including a plan to refinance public school teacher pensions and redirect sales taxes on fuel to roads they say would raise $900 million annually.

The speech’s framing “was hypocritical of the governor,” Chatfield said Thursday. 

“Her version of 2019 was revisionist history,” the Levering Republican told reporters.

Nonetheless, Whitmer said “when people see orange barrels on a state road, they’re going to know it’s this administration fixing the damn roads.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation will issue $3.5 billion in bonds over the next five years to fund reconstruction of the state’s most highly-traveled highways in the worst condition (mostly near the southern Lower Peninsula) and free funds to speed projects further north. 

Whitmer also proposed policies to bolster health care protections, expand childcare support, explore lowering the cost of prescription drugs and show families ways to avoid a law she opposes that would force children to repeat third grade if they don’t pass a reading test.

Shirkey and Chatfield said Thursday they’re open to some of her proposals, particularly the “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” plan to expand health care coverage for low-income mothers for a year after giving birth.

“I’m all in to explore ways in which we can correct” high rates of infant and maternal mortality especially among women of color, said Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican. 

“I’m very anxious to roll my sleeves up and get into that solution.”

Whether they’d support many of the proposals, including one that would extend health coverage for low-income mothers for up to a year after they give birth, will come down to how they’re funded when Whitmer presents her 2021 budget. 

“The devil is in the details,” Shirkey said.

Including Affordable Care Act provisions in state law, such as protections for preexisting conditions and addiction treatment, may be a possibility, but it’s not likely to happen preemptively, Chatfield said.

“Much of that part of the conversation was theoretical,” Chatfield said. “Let’s see what the federal government does and we’ll have the conversation with this governor.”

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Fri, 01/31/2020 - 9:43am

Still say first find out were the BILLIONS in OUR road money went under the past three governors!! I worked and know other that worked for MIDOT, lots of cost over runs, lots of workers getting paid who did not work on the roads but some were else! And JUST look at I-696 ans I-75 completely rebuilt in 2018 has to be repaired in 2019!!! The best on it the Division built in the 40'4 and lasted to the 2008 rebuilt lasted one year!!!! NO new road taxes until this problem is corrected,,,,,, And just look at I-75 north of 8 Mile built in the 60's being rebuilt BUT how long before pot holes?? AND MI DOES NOT HAVE A HIGHER WEIGHT LIMIT ON TRUCKS, THAT JUST BS MDE UP BY JOHN ENGLER!!!!

Sat, 02/15/2020 - 10:26pm

SHOUTING does not make your remarks accurate or credible. Granted, the formula's for calculating the weight of a truck and the comparisons to other States can be tricky, but it has been very well documented that Michigan has given away the farm (highway) to the trucking industry. Republicans have refused to hold the trucks accountable because they are content to have citizens pick up the slack for business and they advance that position with disingenuous arguments about how charging trucks a fair share of the cost of the roads will drive manufacturing out of the state. (pun intended) There is the made-up BS, Don.
The Freep has been publishing the details of the opposition to pushing up fees for trucks for many years. Check out this December 2014
article: https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2014/12/02/go-cutting-truck-we...
which explains how Michigan allows pavement-crushing trucks weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds — and in some cases more than a million pounds — to travel state highways after paying only a $50 fee. That fee is many times lower than what neighboring states charge for overweight truck permits, the Free Press reported.
So Don, don't shout. This is a civilized discussion forum. Stick to the facts, give your sources, draw your conclusions and let other readers think about your point of view.

Andrew Bommarito
Fri, 01/31/2020 - 7:09pm

The problem is is that the Republicans have no viable plan and refuse to present one. Their only plan is to reject everything the Democrats propose.

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 9:33pm

Michigan - going to be just like California in no time - thanks to socialist Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 1:02pm

I hope you're right! I hate corporate welfare, toll roads, gravel roads, deregulation, and all the Republican proposals. You'd probably be happier in Somalia.

Sun, 02/02/2020 - 12:53am

She’s too busy banning vaping and cutting funding to autism assistance. This woman is a twit. One and Done, Gretchen. SEE YA.

Sun, 02/02/2020 - 3:40pm

I followed the story all last year as she tried to work with the Republicans and they categorically refused to come up with new money. They refused to support more taxes at the pump, and they just wanted to shift money around, (like from the teachers’ retirement program) —the same old shell game they played under Snyder—stealing from Peter to pay Paul. At least with the bond sale, repairs will start on some of the state highways, which is a whole lot better than nothing.