Whitmer: Fixing the 'damn roads' is 'going to take a while'

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked about fixing roads, education and said she was intent on working with Republicans at a Friday event.

Birmingham — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday promised that her administration is going to "fix the damn roads" but warned the process is "going to take a while" in an extensive interview about education, the state budget and other issues.

The hour-long conversation with the newly elected governor at the Detroit Free Press Breakfast Club event at the Townsend Hotel featured thoughts from the governor on how she will work to get things done with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"I'm excited about the future of Michigan," Whitmer said. "I am inspired daily by the people I get to work within state government. This is our opportunity to show the world what we do here in Michigan, that we have grit and humility and that we know how to work with one another to solve problems.

"We all have to be a part of the solution," she said.

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Whitmer, who once served as minority leader in the state Senate when her predecessor Rick Snyder was elected governor, said she is intent on building bridges with the business community and the Republicans in the Legislature.

She said she will meet with the leaders of both houses in Lansing to keep the dialogue open. "Potholes are not partisan," she said.

The governor said she is giving her first State of the State address on Feb. 5 and expects to introduce a budget a month later.

How she plans to work with the GOP? "It starts with relationship building," she said. "It starts with making sure that we get to know each other and we have a regular dialogue and that we can build some trust." Term limits make that tough, she said.

Whitmer sidestepped a question about how to fix the roads without raising taxes but said she's open to ideas on how to improve road conditions in the state, including the possibility of a toll road — although she said out-of-state travel into Michigan is not common like other states that have toll roads.

"I never dreamed in a million years I'd be known as the fix-the-damn-roads lady," she said to laughter. "We're going to fix the damn roads, but I've got to acknowledge that it's going to take a little while."

Whitmer said she wasn't pleased with a $1.3 billion supplemental spending package the Republican-led Legislature approved in its waning days last year — twice as much they allocated to roads last year, she said. The package included $115.5 million in extra funding for 74 specific "enhancement grants requested by Democratic and GOP lawmakers. 

"We're going to make some tough choices when I write the state budget," she said. "But also tough choices about how we move forward to address these issues."

Whitmer even praised former Gov. Rick Snyder for changing "the culture in Lansing where budget's get done before summer or before a break" and she plans to continue that.

On education, she said she wants better measuring sticks for better statewide standards and that getting every child educated is important.

"To close schools does not fix the problem," Whitmer said. "We've got to close the skills gap. We are underfunding education."

The administration is dedicated to getting on top of the PFAS chemical contamination problem in the state, too, and making sure every community has safe drinking water, the governor said.

Whitmer said she's spoken to General Motors CEO Mary Berra and expects to talk to her regularly about planned plant idlings and closures to protect workers as best as they can.

Her recent trip to Washington, D.C., was productive, she said, with her even introducing the Asian carp issue to President Donald Trump, who she said promised to try to fund the effort to prevent the invasive species from getting into the Great Lakes.

On the Line 5 tunnel project, the governor said she is awaiting a legal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel, but there are "some serious concerns about keeping that line in the water throughout the construction of the tunnel."

Environmental activists have worried the 65-year-old twin pipelines underneath the Straits of Mackinac will rupture, but pipeline owner Enbridge has said safeguards and monitoring are in place and would continue through the tunnel's construction.


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