Gilbert pressures Whitmer with auto insurance ballot drive bid

Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, is expected to initiate a petition drive on no-fault auto insurance.

A planned petition drive by Detroit developer Dan Gilbert to put a no-fault insurance initiative on the ballot drew skepticism from Democrats on Sunday but was welcomed by at least one GOP lawmaker who said reform can't wait any longer.

Gilbert is expected to roll out a petition drive to collect enough signatures to put a no-fault auto insurance initiative on the 2020 ballot, sources told Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley for a Sunday story.

Gilbert is said to be putting together a citizens' initiative similar to a package of reform bills passed by the Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate in the past couple of weeks.

“The current Michigan auto insurance no-fault law is the single biggest obstacle in the way of retaining and attracting talent and further growing Detroit and Michigan’s economy, Jared Fleisher, vice president for government affairs for Gilbert's Quicken Loans division, said Monday. "This scheme is unique to Michigan. Each of the other 49 states have all found rational and smart ways to deal with auto insurance without abusive, egregious insurance rates that are unaffordable for a large percentage of Michigan drivers."

Fleisher added, "This is not new information. We have said all along that we will take the necessary steps to prepare for a ballot initiative only if there is no resolution at the negotiating table."

The head of the Rock Ventures empire will need to collect 340,000 over six months. Once the names are gathered, the measure will go to the Legislature for a vote.

If the House and Senate approve the initiative with a simple majority, it becomes law without the need for the governor’s signature. If they don’t, the proposal will automatically go on the 2020 fall ballot for voters to decide.

Gilbert had threatened in the fall to bypass the policy-making process and go directly to voters. His belief is that the high cost of auto insurance, which in Detroit typically runs three to four times the national average of $1,400 a year per vehicle, is a major impediment to repopulating the city. Gilbert has spent billions redeveloping downtown, and has begun to move his investment dollars into the neighborhoods.

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Democrat who serves on the Michigan House insurance committee, said Sunday that Gilbert would be going down a "slippery slope" if he gets involved in organizing a ballot proposal.

"It's very concerning to me," Gay-Dagnogo said. "I'm very concerned and offended by his approach. He's backing the governor into a corner."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she would veto the Republican-sponsored reform bills, which would replace Michigan’s unlimited personal injury protection in favor of a system that allows consumers to choose various levels of coverage, or none at all.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer has threatened to "draw the line" and veto any plan that includes a full opt-out for drivers who have their own health insurance.

Asked about Gilbert's plans on Sunday, Zack Pohl, a spokesman for Whitmer, said only: “We are pleased that the lines of communication are open among all parties and that talks are progressing."

 "There has been more progress made in the last four days than the last four years," Pohl said. "Discussions are ongoing, and the governor remains committed to auto insurance reform that protects Michigan motorists and provides financial relief."

Gilbert's plan doesn't address the needs of Detroit residents who have suffered the most from high insurance rates, Gay-Dagnogo said.

"His package is very similar to what Republicans (have introduced)," Gay-Dagnogo said. "It doesn't remove redlining (or) address fair and equitable rates for Detroiters. It would dismiss the needs of affordable rates for Detroiters."

But GOP state Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, who crafted the Senate version of the insurance reform, said Gilbert's plan reflects the frustration many Michiganians feel about the lack of movement on the issue. Republicans say their reforms could cut annual premiums by $1,200 per policy.

 "The people are understandably upset about Michigan's highest-in-the-nation auto insurance, and they'll take matters into their own hands if the governor and the Legislature doesn't solve it," he said.

Nesbitt added: "Now we need the governor to join us in delivering a solution that will drive down insurance rates for Michigan's families, seniors, and drivers."

Michigan state Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, said Sunday he hopes "the Legislature makes (Gilbert's) efforts unnecessary."

"I want reform and will support efforts to ensure Detroiters pay less" for insurance, he said.

"This is a legislative issue," he said. "Let's get this done the right way."

Hollier said the high cost of insuring vehicles in Detroit and Michigan not only discourages others from moving to the state, but hurts the ability of families and individuals, especially in Detroit, to invest in their properties and communities.

"That's why people have moved," said Hollier, who said he pays $3,000 a year more than his best friend in Redford for auto insurance "This is the difference between if people come or go."

Gilbert spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger did not comment on the reported plan on Sunday, saying she didn't "have anything additional to share at this point."

Several Detroit residents and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan sued the state of Michigan last year seeking to have the state's 45-year-old no-fault insurance law declared unconstitutional, arguing that it has resulted in “excessive” insurance rates that violate the constitutional rights of Michigan's citizens.

(313) 222-2027