1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Governor Whitmer touts $4.7 billion infrastructure investment
ABOUT GRETCHEN WHITMER:
Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a lifelong Michigander who is focused on getting things done that will make a difference in people’s lives. She’s an attorney, an educator, former prosecutor, State Representative, and Senator. But the most important title she boasts is MOM. Inspired by her family, she’s devoted her life to building a stronger Michigan for all and governed through unprecedented, colliding crises.
As Governor Whitmer has led Michigan through this extraordinary time, she’s remained focused on doing the right things: acting decisively, following the science, and listening to the experts. Her leadership helped get the once in a century pandemic under control and laid the groundwork to rebuild Michigan’s economy back stronger than ever.
The Governor ran on fixing the damn roads, cleaning up drinking water, and expanding opportunity for all. In two years, the Whitmer’s administration has created 11,000 new auto jobs while working to diversify the economy, made the largest investment in K-12 schools in state history without raising taxes, established the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs to create a more dynamic, educated workforce, and is fixing crumbling roads and water infrastructure while creating 7,500 jobs in the process.
She remains dedicated to investing in small businesses, the lifeblood of our communities, making sure they have the support they need to stay afloat and help rebuild our economy. The Governor is also taking bold steps to improve schools, build a more skilled workforce, and create better jobs for Michiganders. She’s made historic investments in education and is offering free community college and job training to adults over 25 and essential workers, making education accessible to those who can’t afford it.
Governor Whitmer achieved this progress alongside the most diverse cabinet in state history and three dynamic elected leaders: Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
The Whitmer administration will continue working to ensure that every Michigander has a great public education and a path to a good-paying job, every community has clean, safe drinking water, and everyone can drive to work or drop their kids at school safely, without blowing a tire or cracking a windshield. She will keep fighting for Michiganders every day and tackling the big challenges Michigan faces with bold solutions and decisive leadership.
Governor Whitmer and her husband Marc Mallory live in Lansing with Kevin and Doug, the First Dogs of Michigan. Her older daughter, Sherry, is a student at the University of Michigan, and her younger daughter, Sydney, will be joining her sister in the fall. Her three stepsons, Alex, Mason, and Winston all live in Michigan as well. Governor Whitmer earned a bachelor’s degree and law degree from Michigan State University. A lifelong Michigander, Gretchen Whitmer is honored to serve as Governor of Michigan.
ABOUT LISA WOZNIAK:
Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a Bachelors Degree and two ensuing Masters Degrees in Social Work and Education.
Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'd like to welcome you to the April edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair, and my partner in this monthly conversation series is Lisa Wozniak. She is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And today, we're going to discuss the Building Michigan Together Plan that was signed into law this week. This $4.7 billion spending plan is expected to have lasting impact on our waters, infrastructure, and overall environment. Lisa Wozniak, good to be with you again.
Lisa Wozniak: It's always good to be here with you, David. And our guest today--we're very fortunate--is Governor Gretchen Whitmer. And, Governor, thank you so much for making time for us.
Gretchen Whitmer: Oh, I'm glad to be with you both. Thank you.
David Fair: When both chambers passed the budget deals on March 24th, members of both parties excitedly touted its ability to fix our water infrastructure dams, roads and bridges, remove lead pipes, invest in state and local parks, among other things. Before we dove into specific details, I'm curious, Governor, as to what you took away from the negotiation process at a time when public perception remains deeply divided in partisan state government.
Gretchen Whitmer: I really appreciate this question, because I think there is that sentiment. And, certainly, we've had our robust debates, but I have signed 800 bipartisan bills since becoming governor. We've gotten three budgets done on time in a bipartisan fashion, and it's balanced. And I think that economic development package we got done that landed us that $7 billion investment from General Motors shows we can build batteries and be forward-looking and find common ground around that. And I think this is just one more example. If we stay focused on the things that matter to Michiganders, we can still find common ground, and this is just a great example of that.
Lisa Wozniak: So, Governor, let's dig into some of the more specific parts of the plan. More than $1 billion will be dedicated to water infrastructure improvements, and that includes replacing lead service lines in places like Detroit, Benton Harbor, many, many other cities, and getting a new water tower in Flint. When do you think these communities will start to see the benefits of these investments?
Gretchen Whitmer: You know, it was...thank you for pointing that out. I mean, it's three hundred and twenty five million dollars to replace lead service lines alone in the store and $55 million to help communities tackle toxic contaminants like PFAS and $43 million in assistance for small and disadvantaged communities. So, this is a real investment that has seized the fruits of this, starting very quickly. As the ground is thawing, we intend to be moving dirt and moving fast because making these investments only yields the best benefit if we can get them done quickly.
David Fair: I was glad to see that another beneficiary of this federal infusion of money is going to be schools. Even in more affluent districts like Ann Arbor, there have been periods where expensive bottled water--in plastic, by the way--became a necessity because of lead contamination. Will these investments resolve those issues statewide, or is this just the start?
Gretchen Whitmer: I think that these investments will make a huge difference. As you know, because I know you pay attention to all the conversations and budgets I've introduced in Lansing, I've been trying to get more money so that we can ensure that the water that is coming into our schools is safe for the kids and teachers and everyone there to consume. And so, this does represent an opportunity for us to really upgrade the infrastructure in our schools. In addition to this, I've introduced a budget and those negotiations are ongoing, so it's not completed. But I'm hoping we can do a billion dollars in school infrastructure to improve the quality of the buildings, to make them more sustainable, and also to ensure the ability for us to have clean air and water for our students and everyone who's in our schools as well. So, that will be the second piece, but this is a major step forward and will resolve a lot of the lingering issues around water quality in our schools.
David Fair: WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues with Lisa Wozniak of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and our guest, Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Lisa Wozniak: Governor, another component of the infrastructure plan that you've mentioned that is of particular importance in our region here in Washtenaw County and along the Huron River Watershed relates to PFAS contamination. How far will this investment take us in cleaning up and preventing further spread of these so-called forever chemicals?
Gretchen Whitmer: I appreciate the work that LCV has done on that and our stakeholders statewide have done. We've got some of the best, most aggressive standards, and we're doing more detection than other states. So, we're leaders in this space. However, this is a problem everywhere and working to resolve toxic contaminants like PFAS, we've dedicated $55 million toward that effort. It's a real significant start, but I suspect that as we detect more, we're going to have more work to do in this space. But I'm glad to get it started with this kind of a real massive investment.
David Fair: Another good start is in the area of upgrading storm and wastewater systems, which obviously can be a source of water contamination. With all that needs to be done to address the aging systems, how will this round of allocation be determined by priority across the state?
Gretchen Whitmer: First, I want to point out as a $712 million for clean water initiatives around storm and wastewater, and that's six hundred and seventy million for clean water infrastructure, thirty five million dollars for loans to help repair failing septic systems, $20 million for public health risk reduction, eight million dollars to address emerging contaminants. I think that the work will be swift. Certainly, prioritizing where we've got the most compelling needs is going to drive how we are able to move in communities that need us to move quickest. So, that work will be ongoing, but certainly will be driven by what the science is telling us, what the facts reveal in terms of our statewide assessment and really prioritizing communities that that need to be at the top of the list and moving quickly.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and Lisa Wozniak and I are talking with Governor Gretchen Whitmer on our monthly series, First Friday Focus on the Environment.
Lisa Wozniak: Governor Whitmer, when we think about infrastructure, things like roads and bridges typically come to mind, and that's certainly part of this package. However, in recent years, extreme weather events have really brought to the fore the need to upgrade our infrastructure to handle the more frequent heavy rainfall due to climate change. How will this legislation prepare our infrastructure to deal with those impacts--those frequent extreme climate related weather events?
Gretchen Whitmer: There's no question that, you know, these 500-year flooding events that happen over and over again are no longer 500-year events. Our climate is changing. We've got to take action to address the problems that we're confronting today, but also to decarbonize our state and make longer-term investments to shore up and ensure we've got resilient infrastructure that helps us achieve our aggressive goals around climate. So, in this bill, as though there is $210 million to repair dams and 40 million dollars to address the repair and renovation of dams statewide, but this is, I think, an investment that we've got to make right now that will contribute to our longer term goals, you know, addressing pumps, for instance, in our highways, so that unprecedented rainfall that we had last year doesn't bring everything to a standstill and create dangerous conditions with highway flooding is another aspect that is prioritized in this bill that we're going to get done. So, we've got short-term ability to address these concerns, but also longer-term goals that we all need to be part of working on. These are all aspects to our response to these incredible events that that are happening more and more frequently because of the damage that we've done to our climate.
David Fair: You know, another aspect of changing climate is that we see more of the freeze and thaw conditions that create so much road damage. The materials and manner of repair and replacement at this point may be inadequate. We look at climate adaptation in a number of ways. Should we be thinking about better and longer lasting materials to address those climate conditions, even if it's more expensive upfront?
Gretchen Whitmer: Absolutely. I think it's undeniable that what we are seeing is the collision of climate change and underinvestment in infrastructure. And so, it is frustrating when it feels like they're fixing the same road over and over again. The fact of the matter is, for decades, we've not put enough resources into rebuilding the infrastructure, and it's just been superficial patches, and those don't last. And so, we need to both recognize we've got work to do in the climate space, but also infrastructure space. And as we rebuild the right way, using the right mix and materials is how we get more for our money, but also, more importantly, a longer, more resilient infrastructure that serves us and keeps us safe and makes us competitive, economically speaking, and does the right thing when it comes to doing our part to limit the impact we're all having on climate change.
Lisa Wozniak: With $4.7 billion in investment, there's a lot of work to be done, and I think it's safe to assume that there will be a large number of jobs needed to make these repairs and investments come to life. Can you talk a little bit about how these investments will impact our economy?
Gretchen Whitmer: Well, first, when we make these investments, we make Michigan a place that shows we are up to tackling the fundamentals that the things that stand in businesses' way or in people's way from getting ahead. The Building Michigan Together Infrastructure Plan is really 15 times the annual investment we make in the water-related infrastructure alone. It was a state that has 20 percent of the world's freshwater in and around our borders. It's crucial that we show we know how to manage and protect our water. We also know that these investments will support over fifty four thousand jobs as we deploy these dollars and start to rebuild. And it builds on the over $2 billion we've already invested in water over the last three years. So, these are crucial investments. They help families and businesses get ahead. They show Michigan is up to tackling problems, which makes us more attractive to future investments. And we put good, hardworking people to work in these crucial jobs, and we pay them prevailing wage to ensure that they can get the best for our tax dollars and families who are working can support themselves. So, there's lots of good in terms of economic benefits to individuals and our state collectively.
David Fair: Governor, thank you so much for making time for us today. We do appreciate it.
Gretchen Whitmer: Thank you both. It was great to be with you.
David Fair: [00:11:01] That is Governor Gretchen Whitmer, our guest on First Friday Focus on the Environment. My content partner and co-host with his monthly conversation series is Lisa Wozniak. She serves as executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And, Lisa, thank you so much, and I will look forward to our visit in May.
Lisa Wozniak: Thank you, David. Thank you, Governor Whitmer. It's been a pleasure.
David Fair: I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station, 89 one WEMU FM and HD One Ypsilanti.
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