The Michigan House and Senate sent a budget to Gov. Whitmer’s desk last week allocating an additional $400 million to the annual $468 million the state spends on roads and bridges. Michigan’s governor strongly opposed it, stating that "These one-time dollars are enough to fix four bridges in a state that currently has over 1,000 state and local bridges rated in poor condition.” But on September 30, Whitmer signed the budget into law to avoid a government shutdown.
Whitmer became Michigan’s governor mainly because of her promise to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, and stated she would not sign a budget that did not include a long-term solution to the issue. Earlier this month, Whitmer abandoned that steadfastness, after it became clear that standing by this promise would result in a government shutdown.
The Democrat caved to Republicans to avoid a potential government shutdown but the infrastructure funding in the budget that she now signed into law is nothing more than a show piece. An extra $400 million is allocated to roads and bridges but if the problem is to be seriously addressed, Michigan needs to spend $2.5 billion annually over the next few years. That is why Whitmer proposed the 45 cent gas tax, because it would raise that amount annually and actually fix the problem. It quickly became clear that such a tax would be incredibly unpopular and politically stupid but a one time allocation of $400 million will make no real difference.
Gov. Whitmer needs a better and more popular proposal even if it would never pass the Republican controlled house and senate. A 45 cent gas tax just does not look good. She needs to play politics here. Why not lower the gas tax to 20 cents but then propose that Nestle pay more than just $200 annually to pump 400 gallons a minute of Michigan water. The funds generated from this would have to be enough to cover the remaining part of the $2.5 billion that the decreased gas tax does not.
Now, this bill has no real chance of making it through the house and senate but its failure would supply the Democrats with great attack material on Republicans, painting them as supporting Nestle’s free ride while at the same time not being serious about fixing the roads and bridges. This is much more important because the required $2.5 billion to actually solve the issue will never come as long as Republicans control the Michigan legislature.
Whitmer has to put the Republicans in a situation that would essentially guarantee a blue wave in 2020. This means ending discussion of the effective but unpopular 45 cent gas tax while focusing on corporations not paying their fair share in taxes or in Nestle’s case, getting a free pass.
This messaging wins even in deep red Michigan counties such as Osceola County in northern Michigan, where Nestle pumps much of its water. Residents there, most of them conservative, absolutely hate this. Throughout the state as a whole, just 75 of 81,862 comments sent in supported Nestle pumping water for free.
Charging for this right and putting those funds towards infrastructure is a winning message, and one that will not just ensure Whitmer’s re-election, but possibly turn the state’s legislature blue. The only question is if Whitmer and other leading Democrats are willing to take on not just the Republicans but multinational corporations such as Nestle, two things that they have thus far failed to do.