Opinion: Does the governor really want to 'fix the damn roads'?

Tori Sachs
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tests the integrity of a Lansing bridge on Aug. 12, 2019.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget fiasco has resulted in funding cuts to at-risk students, rural health care and public safety. We all know Whitmer wanted to “fix the damn roads” and won the governor’s office running on that platform. Fast forward to her first time signing the state budget, and Whitmer vetoed $375 million dedicated to fixing roads and bridges.

Hours after vetoing millions to fix the roads, Whitmer convened the State Administrative Board — made up of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, state superintendent and the Department of Transportation director — to transfer additional funds, originally dedicated to roads, to local bus transit and rail roads.

More:Michigan budget breakdown: Spending up $1.7B, but roads, higher ed cut

While there should be a dialogue about the importance of increased investment in public transportation, Whitmer’s clear betrayal of Michigan taxpayers is not up for debate.

The budget fiasco is a direct result of Whitmer’s doomed 45-cent gas tax increase that both Republicans and Democrats rejected. Instead of continuing good-faith negotiations, Whitmer and her allies made the conscious decision to cut funding for roads, schools, public safety, autism services, and opioid addiction recovery in an effort to push through their massive tax hike.

During the campaign, Whitmer scoffed at the idea of a 20-cent gas tax to fix the roads. But as governor, her first budget proposal included a gas tax 2.5 times larger at 45 cents. Not to be outdone, Whitmer’s director of transportation stated the actual amount needed is an 80-cent gas tax. Whitmer has been disingenuous about her promise to fix the roads.

Whether Whitmer settles on a 45-cent or an 80-cent gas tax increase remains to be seen. But I can’t imagine the state Legislature will support an unprecedented gas tax increase when Whitmer has already cut millions in road funding and is actively diverting road-funding dollars to other transit projects. 

Whitmer is only the second governor to utilize this administrative board maneuver. It was first used by John Engler in 1991 on one budget item. The total transfer from Whitmer that has been approved by her allies, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, totaled nearly $625 million.

More:Gov cuts GOP pet projects in bid to restart budget, road aid talks

It makes you wonder: Does Whitmer think she can decide how to spend any dollar the Legislature appropriates? Is that why she's so keen on a gas tax?

Whitmer and her allies will have a difficult time convincing the public to support any gas tax increase, let alone the massive amount she is hoping for. The governor is not doing herself any favors by negotiating in bad faith and by diverting current road funding to other projects.

The Legislature can’t trust Whitmer to use the state’s tax dollars as intended, and the public can’t trust her to keep her word. She said she wanted to fix the roads but instead cut road funding. She said she would be an ally for people with autism before cutting their funding. Whitmer called the opioid overdose problem a “crisis,” and then cut funds for addiction recovery.

Whitmer’s  budget cuts speak louder than her call to “fix the damn roads.” It’s going to be hard for her to build back trust from both the Legislature and the public. To do so, she must work in good faith to restore these dramatic cuts to critical services.

Tori Sachs is the executive director of Michigan Rising Action.