Whitmer works on new roads plan, warns of budget pressures
LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that she is working on an alternative road-funding plan to promote in her second year in office after the Legislature rejected a proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase, but she did not release details.
In a year-end roundtable with reporters, Whitmer also said there won’t be much money left to spend after she signs a supplemental bill Friday to restore $574 million of the $947 million she vetoed from the budget. The deal to resolve the impasse included reversing some fund shifts she made via a state board.
“The fact of the matter is, the general fund is going to be very tight going into 2020,” Whitmer said in her office at the Capitol.
The Democrat said funding for the $36 million Pure Michigan tourism and marketing campaign — which she vetoed and which was not reinstated as part of a deal last week — could potentially be restored because the program is financed with restricted, not general, funds.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. said Tuesday that the ads will end starting Jan. 1 because of a lack of funding.
Asked to elaborate on how she will propose spending between $2 billion and $2.5 billion more annually to fix the state’s dilapidated roads and bridges, Whitmer said: “You’ll have to wait and see.” She accused the Republican-led Legislature of having a “complete lack of courage” to solve the road-funding problem or to put a viable long-term option on the table, but said it would be “unwise” for her to again call for 45-cent gasoline and diesel tax hikes.
“This is a crisis that we are confronting that is diverting resources from other things” such as educating children, keeping college costs in check and upgrading water infrastructure, she said. “We have an infrastructure crisis that is undeniable. When pothole season hits three-and-a-half months from now, people are going to be furious. I told the Legislature I wouldn’t want to be the one running next year on a dirt-road agenda.”
Whitmer, who campaigned on fixing the roads, is not up for re-election until 2022. Neither is the Senate. House members face election in 2020.
While the standoff over road spending was a setback that led to the budget being unresolved until months after the deadline, Whitmer pointed to policy accomplishments. She signed a bipartisan law to reduce high auto insurance premiums by letting people opt out of mandatory unlimited health coverage for crash injuries — evidence, she said, that she and lawmakers can “do good things and do them together.”