News Story

Whitmer Blames Dam Failure On Low Funding After She Proposed Funding Cut For Dam Repairs

Governor points finger at legislators — but they rejected her cut

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made claims that she tried to fix Michigan’s infrastructure problems, including strengthening the thousands of dams in the state. To make the case, at a Lansing press conference, the governor pointed to a 45-cent per gallon gas tax increase she proposed in 2019. But that proposal would not have directed any additional resources to dam repairs.

In fact, Whitmer’s first executive budget proposed reduced annual funding for a state dam repair fund, even as her budget presumed that the gas tax hike would be passed and boost revenue available for such projects.

Dam maintenance has become a national story since the Edenville and Sanford dams failed, causing history-making floods in Midland and Gladwin counties.

The governor’s first budget proposal would have reduced the amount placed in a dam repair fund compared to the previous year, when $350,000 had been allocated for dam repair grants. Whitmer wanted to reduce that to $200,000. The Legislature rejected the cut, and the dam fund received $350,000 for the current fiscal year budget.

In her May 21 press conference, Whitmer said she wanted cooperation from the Legislature on the issue of infrastructure funding, with wording that suggested she had increased funding for dams.

Whitmer was asked this question: “Governor, the infrastructure commission former Gov. Rick Snyder created in 2016, called first spending $225 million over 20 years to shore up and start removing some of these troubled dams in Michigan. With the current situation, is it time to revisit that recommendation and start to put money into this issue?”

Whitmer said: “Well, Lauren, I’ve been running, I ran on and I’ve been introducing solution after solution to try to fix infrastructure in Michigan. I ran on fixing the damn roads, but we all know that it wasn’t just roads. It was dams and roads. The fact of the matter is we have underinvested over the period of decades in this state. And when you have 500-year events happening, hundred-year events happening with more frequency, we know that this underinvestment is going to come with a very big cost if we don’t take this seriously.”

Whitmer continued: “I know that the 45-cent gas tax was not embraced with a lot of enthusiasm. But the fact of the matter is we know that we’ve got hundreds of dams, we’ve got thousands of bridges. By the way, a few bridges were wiped out when the dam failed. We’ve got roads that are filled with potholes. And this is what I’ve been trying to fix. I would love to have some cooperation and partnership from the Legislature and the federal government, frankly, to reinvest in infrastructure.”

Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.