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


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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