In State of the State, Whitmer turns to road funding ‘Plan B’

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her second State of the State address Wednesday, telling a joint session of the Michigan House and Senate in an unusually short speech that she would move forward without them to fix the state’s notoriously bad roads.

“When it comes to tackling Michigan’s problems, I have got a Plan A and a Plan B,” she said.

Plan A was the 45 cent-per-gallon gas tax she suggested last year to raise additional funds to repair and update infrastructure. That idea from the Democratic governor was a nonstarter in the Republican-led Legislature.

In her speech, Whitmer criticized lawmakers for failing to step up and institute an unpopular fix, going on to say that Republicans’ alternatives were “not serious.”

She said failing to sink more money into the roads harms families who have to spend more on car repairs than those in other states, discourages investment by business and negatively impacts public safety.

“Michiganders are hardworking people. They expect results. They deserve leaders who will work hard and get things done. They won’t accept excuses and neither will I. I am not here to play games,” she said. “That’s why it’s time for Plan B.”

She said she would ask the State Transportation Commission on Thursday to issue bonds to raise $3.5 billion for investment in major state thoroughfares, which the state Legislature would have no part of.

“It will do three things: save time, save money and save lives,” the governor said. “Since it doesn’t require the Legislature to act, we can get started right away. And that’s important. Cutting down on the time we take to repair Michigan’s most frequently traveled trunk lines and state roads is fiscally responsible. We can add and expand 122 major new projects and nearly double the amount available to fix roads over the next five years than if we wait. We can get to work on these state trunk line roads and freeway and take advantage of today’s low interest rates. Over the long haul, we’re going to actually save money.”

But Whitmer said the Legislature would still have to come up with a “real, long-term solutions” for road funding. She urged citizens to call their legislators and urge them to act.

The bond suggestion was immediately lambasted by Republicans, with Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox tweeting that is was “shameful” and “disrespectful.” In a tweet, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley referred to it as a “generational shell game.”

“It’s a nonsensical plan that will have far-reaching effects on our future generations,” Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said in a statement. “We’ve bonded almost $2.5 billion for roads since 1992 and we’re still behind the eight ball with some of the worst roads in the country. We need more effective solutions to deliver real repairs and real results.”

HEALTH CARE, OTHER PROGRAMS

Flying through several other initiatives in a speech that lasted only about 36 minutes, Whitmer also announced a project to build a visitor’s center on Mackinac Island named for late Michigan Gov. William Milliken; discussed expanding overtime pay and cracking down on overtime fraud; said she would work to add literacy support and improve equitable funding of schools; and bridging the skills gap in the workforce, among other things.

>>Online: Read the governor’s full speech

As she opened her speech, Whitmer recognized 13-year-old Monte Scott from Muskegon Heights, who, after nothing was done about “ankle-deep” potholes in his neighborhood, simply filled them himself. He welcomed applause from the crowd with waves and a smile.

Turning to health care as one of her main areas of focus, she asked the Legislature to enshrine insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“Pass these protections. It is the right thing to do,” she said.

Her budget proposal will include expanding postpartum care for low-income mothers from 60 days of coverage to one year. Whitmer said that would include more access to home visits and additional substance abuse and mental health resources. She said the program would focus on women of color, who face a higher risk of pregnancy-related death.

She added she was preparing to launch a task force focused on lowering prescription drug costs.

Whitmer, who will present her budget proposal to he Legislature next week, promised to move quickly on a number of programs, saying “impatience is a virtue” when dealing with the state’s biggest issues.

REFERENCE TO CRITICISM OF APPEARANCE

Whitmer opened her speech with a jibe about a widely condemned TV report following last year’s State of the State that criticized the dress she wore.

“This is not the red carpet,” she said. “So please, I urge you, focus on the substance of my speech. It’s about issues, not appearances.”

It’s a busy week for politics in Michigan: President Donald Trump will visit the east side of the state Thursday. Next week, Whitmer will deliver the Democratic response to his State of the Union address.

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