News Story

Whitmer Ran On Road Repair Promise, But Will Spend Less To Fix Them Than Last Year

$40 million less; her one suggestion was a steep gas tax hike

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ran for office on a promise to fix Michigan’s roads. During her first several months as governor, she talked a lot about the issue.

According to WXYZ, the governor said in May, “People want our roads fixed. That is the No. 1 issue, and there is crickets at the Capitol right now on that front.”

A Michigan Radio report from May quoted Whitmer describing the condition of roads in the state as “very dangerous.”

But as of Wednesday, $40 million less in state transportation spending will have been authorized this year when compared to 2018-19.

Here’s how that happened.

Whitmer's one proposal to fix Michigan’s roads was a 45-cent per gallon hike in the gas tax, which would have nearly tripled the current level of 26.3 cents per gallon. The governor tweeted in June, “Michigan's roads are more than an embarrassment, they’re downright dangerous. I have a real plan to get Michigan’s roads back into shape.”

But no legislator of either party ever introduced a bill to enact her idea, and no one asked for a roll call vote on it. Instead, legislators found an additional $338 million for transportation without a tax hike, mostly by allocating increases in various state revenue streams to road funding.

At the end of September, the Republican House and Senate adopted and sent Whitmer an annual budget bill that contained the $338 million increase. The governor’s response was to veto 147 items in the budget, representing $947 million in spending across state government.

Many of the vetoes were intended to pressure Republican lawmakers, such as a $35 million cut to new money for charter schools. But the reaction of the GOP House and Senate caucuses was summed up a few days later when both the Senate majority leader and the House Speaker stated separately, “The budget is done.”

On Wednesday, however, the House and Senate approved $573.5 million in additional state spending, including much of the money Whitmer had vetoed. Not included, however, were any additional dollars to fix the roads.

The only transportation-related spending approved then was $13 million for municipal bus agencies.

Whitmer’s actions actually removed $375.1 million in transportation spending, not just the $338 million that had been added from rising state revenue. In addition to the line item vetoes, the governor also approved controversial fund-shifts. Among other things, one favored mass transit over fixing roads by moving $25 million originally targeted for roads but was moved to pay for  transit (buses) costs.

The additional spending authorized this week represents a compromise between the Democratic governor and Republican Legislature, and it is expected to be finalized next week. Despite the governor having campaigned on a fix-the-roads platform, less money has been budgeted in 2020 to fix Michigan roads than during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Specifically, $3.64 billion in state revenue was budgeted for transportation in 2018-19. The budget passed by the Legislature in September increased that amount to $3.98 billion in 2019-20. But after the governor’s vetoes and fund shifts, and this week’s approval of added spending, the transportation budget will receive $3.60 billion state dollars this year, or about $40 million less than the amount spent last year.

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