LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Governor Gretchen Whitmer is focused on fixing the roads and she's staying in the fast lane on her plan to build a stronger economy, by building a stronger infrastructure.
News 10's Ann Emmerich sat down with Gov. Whitmer last week for an exclusive one-on-one interview. They started by talking about her biggest challenge so far. Governor Whitmer said, "It's just an incredible amount of work that goes into writing the state budget. I've introduced it and now I'm getting across the state to educate the public on it and I think that's going to be one of the most important things we do to set the agenda right in Michigan, and I've got to build a coalition to get it done, and, so that's where I've spent all my energy."
Ann Emmerich: "Your proposal to raise the gas tax by 45 cents a gallon has been met with mixed reviews. Would you consider taxing trucks more since we have one of the highest weight limits in the country and they do take a toll on our roads?"
"Without question. And the thing about the way that we are trying to tackle the problem, in terms of our infrastructure, by raising the dollars at the pump, it constitutionally guarantees that every dime actually goes into roads and bridges. No more shell game, no more sending money to Lansing and hoping it gets where it is supposed to go. This does that. Heavy trucks will be paying more because they consume much more gas. Diesel is taxed at 45 cents additional per gallon same as the gas that we put in our cars, and so that is something that is kind of built in here. I think ultimately, maybe we do have to have a bigger conversation about some of the damage that's done by the weights, but they are going to pay more as a result of what I have put on the table and I think that's that's fair. There are user fees and its infrastructure that we all benefit from."
Ann Emmerich: "What do you think of making I-94 from Detroit to the west side of the state towards Chicago a toll road?"
"We had a lot of debate about whether or not toll roads were something that were workable. It's not that we didn't conclude that we could maybe use that to some extent, but the magnitude of the problem that we have is $2.5 billion. That's a quarter of the state general fund budget that we have to work with. That's how much we need to raise to fix this problem and to do it in 10 years. It's still going to take time. Toll roads as a peninsula state are a little bit more difficult because people don't cut through our state the way that we cut through Ohio or Illinois or Pennsylvania. And so it complicates our ability to raise that kind of revenue through tolls. Tolls could be a part of a solution down the road, all my analogies are about the roads and that's something that certainly we might be able to do something but to really tackle this problem, requires a bold investment and that's why the gas tax was the smartest way to go about doing this."
Ann Emmerich: "General Motors has announced big investments in its Lake Orion and Delta Township plants, although cutting jobs in some areas. And then, Ford announcing big huge job cuts, what does that mean for the economy here in Michigan?"
"Our economy is changing. And you know, as I went to the Detroit Auto Show, the two things that I heard over and over again, were we need to close the skills gap, we need to fix our infrastructure problem and that's why the budget I've introduced is focused on doing both of those things. The General Motors announcement in Lake Orion, the other day I was there. I was talking with the plant manager who was explaining that there were car haulers that won't come to their facility because the roads are so bad. And so you think about what this means for GM, making some investment, is changing their platform and their program but LC, sorry, Ford is making a new investment in Michigan, FCA, Fiat Chrysler made another investment in Michigan, so they're still investing in our state, but if we're going to see them grow here we've got to fix infrastructure and we've got to have the workers to do the jobs and so that's what I'm staying focused on."
Ann:"How is your relationship with GOP legislators and do you think you can work together to get the legislation you need done?"
"I do. You know, we have an opportunity to show the world that divided government doesn't have to look like Washington D.C. and I'm always mindful of that when I am traveling into different parts of our state, I invite the legislators whether they're Republican or Democratic, I am serious about building bridges and relationships and solving problems together and so that's something that, we've already had more meetings as leaders than any of the last two administrations combined, I think, so. This is something I'm serious about and I'm going to continue to do that."