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Whitmer wants to issue bonds to fix roads, she announces during state address


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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives the State of the State Address Jan. 29 at the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer introduced a new plan to fix roads tonight at her second State of the State address at the Michigan State Capitol. 

The Governor said she is asking the State Transportation Commission to issue state road bonds to start fixing roads. 

This plan comes after she originally proposed an unpopular 45 cent gas tax, which was called dead shortly after by House Democratic Leader Christine Greig in August. Using this avenue, Whitmer could bypass the Michigan legislature’s vote and start raising money quicker. However, it is not a long-term solution, she said. 

“Cutting down on the time we take to repair Michigan’s most frequently traveled trunklines and state roads is fiscally responsible,” Whitmer said. 

After Whitmer's speech, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II told media that this solution would not cost taxpayers more. He also said the initiative will be implemented across the state.

"This will cover the entire state of Michigan," Gilchrist said. "It will improve people's daily commutes, improve people's daily lives."

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield briefly addressed the media after Whitmer’s speech. He was most concerned with the new plan to fix the roads. 

“We’ve yet to see a real proposal from this Governor,” Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said. “We tried to work with her. She refused to work with us, and it was 45 cents or bust.

“This is not a long-term solution. We’re simply taking out a loan and passing it on to our children.” 

Whitmer said in her speech that she will continue to work with the state legislature to find a long-term solution to the roads. Chatfield agreed to work with Whitmer, but it can’t be 45 cents or bust, he said. 

Local Representative Roger Hauck, R-Isabella County, was not for Whitmer's plan to use bonds to fix the roads. He mentioned Michigan was still paying off loans from the last two governors. 

"It's the same old deal where everyone wants to fix the roads but nobody wants to pay for it," Hauck said. "When you bond roads, it's not like bonding a building when you still have something after 30 years. If you bond the road, it's not going to last for 30 years and you'll have to redo it."

Education

Whitmer introduced Muskegon Heights 13-year-old Monte Scott early in her speech, explaining how his neighborhood was diminished by potholes. Instead of waiting for others to make a difference, Scott used a shovel to fill them with dirt.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s giving the State of the State one day,” Whitmer said of Scott. “Monte’s generation is a generation of doers.”

Monte Scott of Muskegon Heights waves to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during the State of the State Address Jan. 29 at the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. In March, Scott started filling potholes on Maffett Street near his home using a shovel and dirt from his backyard.

She addressed Scott on a few occasions, expressed the need for K-12 literacy improvement and implemented a challenge for high school seniors. wants as many as possible to find a union apprenticeship, community college or university.

Whitmer said, in 2019, Michigan students missed out on claiming $100 million in federal financial aid. To make sure everyone fills out the FAFSA form, Whitmer has created the “Governor’s FAFSA Challenge,” a contest where the high schools with the highest completion rates can earn prizes for simply filling out a financial aid form.

The winning school will receive $10,000.

“Parents and counselors, tell your students,” Whitmer said. “Students, tell your friends. Filling out this form is important for your future. Everyone deserves a path to postsecondary success.”

Along with having high school students complete the FAFSA form, Whitmer noted Michigan ranks in the bottom 10 states for overall literacy. To combat that, she said there will be better access to child care for parents who are in school or working full-time jobs.

By the time those children reach school age, Whitmer said they’ll be immersed in a state that’s already tripled the number of literacy coaches. The next step, she added, was for literacy coaches to train educators to identify and help struggling readers. The budget will be released next week.

“Our work cannot stop with early literacy,” Whitmer said. “All Michigan students should have the opportunity to go to properly funded schools.”

Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said in a release he appreciated Whitmer’s aim to improve education and will continue to vote to increase funding in schools across Michigan. Outman, who represents the counties of Clare, Gratiot, Isabella, Mecosta and Montcalm, is well aware of the public school system and universities like Ferris State, Central Michigan and Alma College. 

“My only hope is that my district and other rural communities are not red-penned out of the picture like last year,” Outman said.

Whitmer called her goal of getting 60% of state residents to earn a postsecondary credential by 2030 “ambitious,” and she spoke adamantly about her desire to help everyone make it to another level of education following high school.

She did not further address higher education, which came as a concern to Hauck. He wants more funding for CMU.

“One of the things that I’m going to focus on this year is that higher education should be funded like our K-12,” Hauck said. “It should be for a per pupil basis because if a parent sends their kid to Michigan, Michigan State or Wayne State, that should not mean any more than a parent sending their kids to CMU or, heaven forbid, the Broncos.”

Of the 15 universities in the state, Michigan ($320 million), Michigan State ($286 million), Wayne State ($202 million) and Western Michigan ($111 million) were allocated more in 2018-19 than the $87,415,000 given to CMU.

For the 2019-20 academic year, Whitmer upped CMU’s allocation by 1.81 million, just over a 2% increase.

"This was a major draw for us," President Bob Davies said to Central Michigan Life in October 2019. "Only one (other university) received an over two percent increase, which was Lake Superior State University. All the other universities received a lot lower than us."

CMU Board of Trustee member Isaiah Oliver, who was in attendance for the State of the State, said he's impressed with Whitmer's dedication to universities.

“I like the fact that, as a state, we’re committed to talking less and doing more,” Oliver said.

Sexual harassment

During her speech, Whitmer addressed an ongoing controversy regarding sexual harassment by Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, where three women have accused Lucido of sexual harassment in the workplace.  

“Please, I urge you, focus on the substance of my speech. It’s about issues, not appearances. I don’t care how distracting Senator Shirkey’s outfit is—cut him a break,” Whitmer said. 

Whitmer later addressed an “uptick in hateful, harmful language” in Michigan.

“Whether it’s misogyny in the workplace or threats of violence online, this is unacceptable,” Whitmer said. “Let’s debate. Let’s disagree. But then let’s all live up to our responsibility to stand up to hate and harassment.”

This comment drew applause from both sides of the state legislature. 

Voices echo through the dome of the capitol building before the State of the State Address Jan. 29 in Lansing, Michigan.

What’s next

Whitmer will provide the Democratic Party’s official response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 4. 

“Whitmer’s vision for the future is exactly what this country needs, and I’m thrilled she is giving the Democratic response,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement announcing Whitmer’s upcoming response.

View Whitmer's full speech here. 

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