News Story

Whitmer changes tune on road funding

Governor now argues it’s possible to fix roads without raising taxes; in 2019, tax hikes were the only strategy

“We’re fixing the damn roads without raising taxes by a dime,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted Monday. “That’s it. That’s the tweet.”

That’s a far cry from what Whitmer was saying in 2019, her first year in office. Back then, when Whitmer pursued a 45-cent-per-gallon tax increase, she argued publicly that higher taxes were the only way to fund road work.

“There’s not a solution that you can raise the revenue it’s going to take to fix the problem and make sure it’s going to go where it’s supposed to go because that’s part of the problem,” Whitmer said.

By “raise the revenue” Whitmer meant increasing taxes. Whitmer wanted to reach $2.5 billion in revenue per year, set aside specifically for roads.

All of her thinking at the time involved tax hikes. Back then it was a matter of which tax should increase, and by how much.

Four years later, Whitmer touts her ability to fix roads without tax hikes. But she said something very different earlier in her tenure.

“And so, when you think about, what are the other alternative ways of doing this?” Whitmer said in an April 2019 interview with WDIV-TV reporter Hank Winchester. “To get to $2.5 billion, you'd have to increase the corporate income tax three-fold. So from 6 percent to 18 percent. With the Legislature I’ve got, that’s even less of a starter. We could increase the income tax, we have to go to a vote of the people and hope a future Legislature appropriates the money to the roads. So it’s not a real solution for roads. We could increase the sales tax, we’d have to increase a couple of pennies and hope it'd go to the people and hope the Legislature appropriates the money.”

James Hohman, the Mackinac Center’s director of fiscal policy, noted that Whitmer’s road funding strategy has changed over time.

Hohman cites an “influx of federal debt and greater borrowing, plus road cost trends,” which improved road quality in the short term but “left the state further from the point where it’s improving the roads faster than they fall apart.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.