Bankole: Gilbert denies upstaging Gov. Whitmer

Bankole Thompson

Calls to reform the state’s no-fault auto insurance laws reached a crescendo after Dan Gilbert, the Detroit billionaire investor, signaled he would start a petition to get the issue on the ballot.

Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert speaks, with Wayne County Executive Warren Evans (left) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer looking on.

The move drew instant rebuke from Democratic lawmakers like state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, who viewed it as an attempt to put Gov. Gretchen Whitmer into a corner as negotiations between her, Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey continue over the GOP-backed legislation both chambers passed recently. 

Gilbert told me his goal is not to throw a monkey wrench into ongoing talks between the governor and GOP leaders.  

“No. This is a strong governor who wants to do the right thing for the state,” Gilbert said. “I don’t think she is going to let anybody, including us, determine what’s best for the state.” 

The real estate mogul said the petition drive was something that was always talked about and it still would go to voters if nothing happens. He described his relationship with the governor as “very cordial” and that “we definitely communicated in the last week or so in a very positive way.”

“On the road issue I agree with her. But that’s another conversation. I think she has the best interest of the people. I am hopeful that both houses and the governor can work together and do what is right,” Gilbert said. “This is really not to back anybody into the corner. I’m hoping it really does not get to that. The petition drive wouldn’t need to start until this summer.”

Gilbert observed that high auto insurance in Detroit is also the result of “highly specialized” medical providers and lawyers running “litigation factories” all over town.

“This is pretty much a scheme that’s been going on for decades. About 60 percent of Detroit drivers don’t carry insurance because it is unaffordable,” Gilbert said. “Something is wrong with that picture. This is the single biggest obstacle in making Detroit and the state competitive.”

Gilbert added, “We stand for creating a competitive economy and jobs. We are committed to this issue.”

Jared Fleisher, vice president of government relations for Quicken Loans said there are many people taking advantage of the no-fault system for profit. 

“What we support is reform that makes reform on the non-driving factors, but also provides for choice on good benefit levels and allows you to opt out if you have other medical coverage,” Fleisher said. “When you combine that Michigan will have a much more lower insurance rate. We want the most equitable system that lowers rates.”

Whitmer is opposed to allowing drivers to opt out completely from medical coverage because it will shift the burden to taxpayers. She also wants to increase Personal Injury Protection coverage to $250,000 or more.

Fleisher said, “Whatever the choices are they have to offer real choice and real savings. We are fully in support of guaranteed rate reduction. We believe they are negotiating in good faith.” 

But Gay-Dagnogo, the most vocal Detroit Democrat against the GOP reform bills, said there are other ways Gilbert could be helpful.

“If he’s truly interested in addressing the root causes of high rates in Detroit, assist with convening a task force which encompasses Democrats, Republicans and every other stakeholder to get a compromise deal,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “He could use his money to pay for actuarial data to determine if a Detroit footprint-only pool with rates negotiated with hospitals, and whether post-acute care would work. Don’t try to muscle a path to a bill referendum that will ultimately fail.”

Gay-Dagnogo and former state Rep. Brian Banks met for hours with Gilbert in the past to discuss the issue.

“I believe that the discussions have not been 100 percent even across the board. All sides and stakeholders have to come to the table to give up something to ensure that the savings make its way to the consumer,” Banks said. “Whatever reforms are passed we need guaranteed rate reductions and to make progress on the non-driving factors.”

Mayor Mike Duggan is monitoring what is happening.

“We greatly appreciate the governor, speaker and majority leader convening to work out a solution on auto insurance,” chief of staff Alexis Wiley said. “Out of respect for these sensitive negotiations, we feel that it’s most appropriate to not comment while they do their work.”