LANSING (WJRT) (1/30/2020) - Republicans strenuously disagree with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's plan to borrow $3.5 billion to fix Michigan roads.
She announced the plan during her State of the State address on Wednesday evening and the Michigan State Transportation Commission approved the bond issue Thursday morning.
Whitmer said the bonds will allow the state to pay for 49 projects and accelerate 73 others on freeways and state trunklines. Local and primary roads would not receive any of the funding.
“Michigan has the worst roads in the nation, and the longer we wait to fix them, the more expensive it will get,” she said in a statement Thursday. “That’s why I’m rolling up my sleeves now and getting to work fixing our state roads and freeways."
Republicans say borrowing money for road projects today and making future generations to pay for them later is not the best course for Michigan.
“Simply put, bonding for road improvements will be detrimental to Michigan’s future and our children, who will be saddled with the debt," said Republican State Rep. Mike Mueller of Linden. "As a father, I will never be on board with a plan that will be so costly to our kids."
State Rep. Roger Hauck of Isabella County's Union Township pointed out Michigan still owes $1 billion for road bonds dating back to the John Engler administration, requiring the state to pay back nearly $200 million a year.
Whitmer's $3.5 billion bonding plan comes after a 45-cent increase to Michigan's gas tax last year. Republicans balked at that plan as too costly for taxpayers and not enough help for county or local roads.
“The governor’s original 45-cent per gallon gas tax increase last year was met with a lot of resistance from people across the state," Hauck said. "Instead of working within current funds to address the issue like people want, she’s again trying to foot taxpayers with a bill.”
Mueller said the freeways and state M- routes receiving the $3.5 billion funding boost are only part of Michigan's road problem.
"Our infrastructure issues are not limited to highways. They start as soon as we pull out of our driveways," he said. "We need to direct funding to local municipalities to get our roads on track."
The Republican-led Legislature doesn't have to approve the $3.5 billion, allowing the Whitmer administration to borrow the money without their approval. That drew ire of Mueller.
“I want to work with the governor on a realistic plan to fix our roads, but she must be willing to come to the table," he said. "Circumventing the Legislature to move forward with her plan to put our road improvements on credit is unfair to the people of Michigan who we represent. I urge her to reconsider her plan.”
Republican State Sen. Kevin Daley of Lum in Lapeer County believes road improvements can be funded adequately using existing revenues.
“We need to tighten our belts and look at existing revenues before going to taxpayers with our hands out," he said. "We have been and should continue fixing our infrastructure simply by reprioritizing our spending."
Daley hopes Republicans and Democrats can come together this year to develop a long-term funding solution for roads.
“Many of the problems facing the state are not political problems, they are Michigan problems," Daley said. "People are tired of the games and unreasonable proposals. They want to see real, meaningful action that improves their quality of life."