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Political potholes are everywhere on the road to fixing Michigan roads

Posted: 9:28 PM, Feb 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-21 23:06:46-05

NEW BALTIMORE, Mich. (WXYZ) — 7 Action News had the only news crew in the vehicle as Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-Michigan) rode along with Macomb County Democratic leaders and MDOT, talking about her plan to fix the roads on Friday.

The governor has announced a bonding plan to fix state roads, but does she see a solution for your local roads? There are numerous political challenges to finding a solution.

Whitmer is facing attacks from President Donald Trump, who at a recent rally said, “She’s not fixing the potholes.”

When she proposed a 45 cent gas tax, even her fellow Democrats criticized the hike, saying it would hurt people who couldn’t afford it. Republicans in the legislature responded to her plan with calls to cut government fat, most of the time without specifying what fat.

While riding in an MDOT van, it was hard to hear exactly what they were saying over the sound of the van rattling on potholes.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel voiced concerns about Public Act 51. It puts in place a formula for how road dollars collected from registration fees and gas taxes are distributed.

“Twenty-two counties are subsidizing sixty-one counties and Macomb was the number one donor county,” said Hackel.

“We are the number one donor county, but we need to bring everybody into the discussion to change Act 51,” said State Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Macomb County).

As State Senator Wojno points out, it leaves some counties with less incentive to address road funding. As a result, there is not just a partisan divide, but a county by county divide.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says the only thing she can do is act unilaterally with a $3.5 billion bond, a loan that under law can only fix state roads, like M-59 from Romeo Plank Road to I-94 which we rode on. Bond money can not be used for local roads.

She says since it is a loan it will only be used to do work with contractual guarantees it will lasts.

“The only way to do a bond is with a long term asset. So this is reconstruction. This isn’t filling potholes or putting another layer of asphalt,” said Whitmer.

She admits it is only a partial solution.

“The the fact of the matter is this is financing, not funding. The legislature needs to move forward on some funding,” said Whitmer.

“Why wasn’t I invited?” asked State Sen Peter Lucido (R-Macomb County), when we met to get his response to the conversations from the ride.

Lucido agrees Public Act 51 is a problem.

“It has almost had its 70th birthday coming up. I am going to wish it a happy birthday, but it is time to go,” said Lucido.

The Macomb County Republican says the bond the governor will be using to fix state roads is a loan with interest we can’t afford and there is no sign of a compromise on road funding for local roads in the legislature.

We asked the governor if she saw a political path to a solution for local roads. She said she is hopeful.

“I am doing what I can do unilaterally, but the fact of the matter is our local roads and bridges are going to continue to suffer because the legislature needs to do something,” said Whitmer.

Will the legislature foo something?

“She needs to fix her own problem, because that is what she ran on. She has the obligation to make her promises right,” said Lucido.