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Governor Whitmer Announces "Plan B" To Fix Michigan Roads

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Jake Neher
/
WDET
Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave Republicans the news that she plans to finance fixing roads with bonds Wednesday night in her second State of the State address. Whitmer's "Plan B" won't require approval from the state legislature.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave her second state of the state address Wednesday after many months divided government in Lansing. She proposed her "Plan B” to fix the state’s roads and talked about ways to shore up protections of the Affordable Care Act. WKAR’s Abigail Censky gave Morning Edition Host Mary Ellen Pitney a recap. Below are highlights of their conversation.

A Mic Drop Sets The Tone

Whitmer began her speech by announcing, “This is NOT the red carpet” encouraging the audience to judge the substance of the speech and not appearances. It was a reference to peripheral and sexist fixations with Whitmer’s outfit after her first address last year.

“I don’t care how distracting Senator Shirkey’s outfit is—cut him a break,” Whitmer said to the crowd, playfully jabbing the majority leader and eliciting her first standing ovation of the night from the crowd. Her assertive tone would carry through the rest of the speech.

My Way AND The Highways

After proclaiming that she was “done waiting” the Governor revealed her much anticipated “Plan B” to fix Michigan’s roads. She’d make an ask to the State Transportation Commission for a 3.5-billion-dollar bond deal, that would double the money available to fix Michigan roads over five years. The plan would expand to include 122 new projects to fix ‘trunk line roads.’ Whitmer pitched the plans as fiscally responsible, but acknowledged it was not a funding source. The deal was approved by the Transportation Commission early Thursday, and does not need further approval from the legislature.

The View From The Majority

Top Republicans soured at the executive bypass to fix part of Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure. Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) lambasted Whitmer for the short-term plan reliant on borrowing. “She doesn’t have a road funding plan; bonding is a finance tool not a funding source. And that is the biggest mistake she’s made and she’s misleading all the people of Michigan to think she’s funding roads. She’s just using a finance tool,” said Shirkey.

His counterpart in the House, Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), insisted the state’s infrastructure funding problem couldn’t be solved until all the money taxed at the pump was diverted to roads. However, that would involve shunting money from the sales tax collected at the pump, dedicated to schools and local governments.

This comes after Republicans and the Governor were at an impasse for several months over how they would fund road fixes. Republicans, and even members of Whitmer’s own party, rejected her 45-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase proposal, calling it “dead on arrival.” In her address, Whitmer said bonds were not a long-term fix and she called on lawmakers to come up with a lasting solution

Enshrining The ACA

Whitmer also told lawmakers in Lansing that she wants to pass state-level protections for part of the Affordable Care Act. If a court case against the ACA succeeds, Whitmer argued thousands of Michiganders with preexisting conditions could lose healthcare. But Senate Majority Leader Mike doesn’t see the same urgency.  You know we’ll see what happens at the federal level, but I don’t see any reason for us to act quickly on that.” The State of Michigan currently has more than 390,000 participants in the ACA and more than 600,000 participants in the state’s Medicaid expansion program. The Texas court case challenging the law was sent back to district court after a higher court ruled part of the law unconstitutional.

Follow Abigail and Mary Ellen on Twitter: @AbigailCensky & @maryellenwkar

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
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