Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks before the Detroit Economic Club at TCF Center in Detroit, Michigan on February 7, 2020. The Detroit News


Detroit — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday weighed in on the troubled tabulations with the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, saying it's evidence that the system is "ripe for change."

The first-term Democratic governor stressed the need for improvements and said Michigan, a bellwether state, should have a stronger voice in the nomination process. 

"I've never liked the fact that there are three states that call the field before any of the rest of us get an opportunity to weigh in," Whitmer told reporters after touting her state budget proposal during a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club at the TCF Center. 

"I don't want to critique my party in a different state but I think there's improvements to be made," Whitmer said, adding she's not ready to throw out what the best solution is. "Whether that's alternating what states go first or it is a national primary or somewhere in between, I think that's a conversation we need to have."

The Iowa Democratic Party's effort to complete its tabulation of the caucus results continued Friday amid a Thursday request by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to conduct a recanvass to ensure vote counts were added properly. Iowa officials said only campaigns could request a recount. 

Whitmer's comments came after U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said Tuesday that the caucus problems are prompting her to resurrect efforts to change the schedule of Democratic primaries. Dingell plans to build a coalition to ensure Iowa and New Hampshire don't hold the nation's first presidential caucuses and primaries in the future because they shouldn't monopolize the nomination process.

Whitmer's appearance in Detroit came a day after her budget officials presented her $61.9 billion spending plan to the state Legislature. On Friday, the governor addressed a crowd of more than 400 business leaders and students to tout her plans to fund fixes for the state's crumbling infrastructure, boost education and address environmental concerns.

Whitmer said her agenda gets at the "dinner table" issues and — coupled with her $3.5 billion Rebuilding Michigan bond program to address the state's roads — addresses promises she made on the campaign trail. She wants the budget done by July 1, she said, something that is required by a state law passed in the past few months. 

"We're moving forward on an agenda that is really geared toward helping families and helping businesses be more successful here in Michigan," Whitmer said. "I need your help to make sure we get this done."

The governor unveiled her "Plan B" to improve the state's aging infrastructure last month during her State of the State address in an effort to "fix the damn roads."

Bonding will allow Whitmer to create a quick influx of money by taking on debt that the state will pay back over 25 years. The plan, she reiterated Friday, will "save money in the long run."

"At the rate that our roads are deteriorating, this is quickly getting out of hand," she said. "My No. 1 priority is the safety of our citizens."

With interest payments, Rebuilding Michigan will cost about $5.2 billion. 

Whitmer's prior plan for a proposed 45-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase stalled road money negotiations, delayed a budget proposal from the GOP-led Legislature and prompted her to issue $947 million in line-item vetoes — some of which were later restored.

Republican leaders have already criticized Whitmer's bond plan as a short-term financing mechanism for which future generations would be paying for years to come. 

Rebuilding infrastructure, she added during her speech, "should not be partisan."

"They not only didn't embrace it, but they never countered," Whitmer said of the Republican-controlled Legislature. "When they get serious and want to have that conversation and put something on the table with actual numbers and dollars and open it up to scrutiny the way I did last year, I am ready to have the conversation. I invite them to the table."

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, has said Whitmer's account is "revisionist history." GOP legislative leaders have proposed a school pension debt swap generating an estimated $1 billion annually, freeing up the 6% sales tax on fuel so it could go exclusively to road repairs instead of aid for schools and local communities.

"She refused to work with us," Chatfield has said. "And it was 45 cents or bust.”

Whitmer is saying all the right things, said Victor Whang, president of Insurance Warehouse in New Baltimore, who supports the road bond plan.

"We need to get that work done. It's no question," he said. "Funding it a different way was quite innovative. Time will tell to see how much cooperation she has with the legislators."

Spencer Weaver, founder of the Ann Arbor-based media company Fourth View, said Whitmer's focus on infrastructure wasn't surprising based on the condition of the roads.

"You look at the roads and go '$3.5 billion, yes it's an awful lot to put on the state credit card. But in the grand scheme of things, it's not nearly enough," he said. 

Budget Director Chris Kolb has acknowledged financial pressures looming over the state's General Fund, including eventual settlements in state lawsuits such as those filed over the Flint water crisis. 

That bill, Whitmer said Friday, will "come due on my watch" and is "going to be a sizable issue."

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