Whitmer: Legislature must ‘get off the dime’ on road fixes

FILE--In this March 18, 2019, file photo, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in Clawson, Mich. Whitmer has ordered a review of Michigan auto insurers' use of non-driving factors to set premiums and their pricing of policies that coordinate medical coverage with drivers' health insurance. The Democrat's move Wednesday comes as Republican lawmakers prepare to soon unveil legislation designed to reduce what on average are the country's highest car insurance rates. Whitmer says the state must take a "hard look" at how insurers set rates to ensure their practices are lawful. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya_File)

LANSING,– With her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike stalled, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that fixing the roads is still the “No. 1 issue” despite the Republican-led Legislature prioritizing an overhaul of Michigan’s car insurance law.

“People want our roads fixed. That is the No. 1 issue, and there is crickets at the Capitol right now on that front,” she said after speaking at an infrastructure summit in Lansing. “I put out a real plan to solve it, and that’s what I want to spend my energy focusing on.”

The House and Senate last week approved different bills that would cut the highest auto premiums in the country by letting people opt out of mandatory unlimited medical coverage for crash injuries. Whitmer, who vowed to veto the legislation due to “a lot of shortcomings,” said “there might be a path forward, but it’s too early to tell.”

She made clear, however, that her priority is raising $2.5 billion in tax revenue for roads, as part of a budget plan to also free up money for education by stopping financial “shell games” that have been used to patch potholes.

“Our roads are the worst in the country. They’re downright dangerous. They’re hurting our ability to maintain our edge in the mobility sector and lure investment in the state of Michigan,” said Whitmer, who has been traveling the state to sell her first budget plan.

Her desire to address deteriorating road conditions and GOP legislative leaders’ prioritization of car insurance changes has sparked speculation that they could strike a broader deal — raising gasoline taxes and reducing auto premiums.

Whitmer stopped short of linking the issues, though, saying the budget should be done before lawmakers break for the summer so K-12 districts can set their spending for the next school year.

“These guys have got to get off the dime and get moving on actually fixing the damn roads in the state of Michigan,” she said.

While Republicans are not ruling out a more modest tax increase to boost road construction, they have not outlined a major alternative in the two months since Whitmer proposed the unpopular 45-cent gas tax hike. A plan up for a vote in the Senate today would increase road spending by $132 million — well short of what business groups and others say is needed — by accelerating the shift of income tax revenue under 2015 transportation-funding laws.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Levering Republican, does not seem interested in linking road funding with car insurance.