Portland Public School Superintendent Will Heath had the honor of introducing Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to Portland area residents, who filled the High School Library to capacity, on Saturday morning. Prior to the Governor’s entrance, Heath reminded those in attendance that an atmosphere of civil decorum was expected like what is expected from the staff and students of Portland Schools whenever they are on school property. Governor Whitmer then appeared and was greeted with a warm round of applause from the audience.
The Governor began her presentation by acknowledging her awareness that Portland residents were still working to recover from the recent flood. She acknowledged Paul Ajegba, Michigan Department of Transportation Director, who accompanied her to Portland. Then she launched into her presentation about what she has been calling “Michigan’s two main crisis: Infrastructure and Education”.
“We’ve been divesting too long” in both areas for the last forty years, the Governor declared. “We need to fix the damn roads”, she continued, “filling pot-holes does not fix roads” and only leads to a “shell game that is not working”. The Governor proceeded to share a slide presentation, that was adapted from her recent budget presentation to the Michigan Legislature, and can be found HERE. The Governor shared that the American Society of Civil Engineers have given Michigan roads a grade of “D-“. Whitmer acknowledged that while increased taxes have been proposed or used in the past that they have not been able to solve the severity of the problem. She noted with concern that, “We have bridges in Michigan that have hundreds of temporary supports holding them up”, and that public risk, including school buses traveling over them, simply demands a solution. The Governor claimed that her proposed 45-cent gas tax hike proposal, in three 15-cent incremental increases over the next year and a half, will cost the average motorist $23 a month. The governor called her proposal “an honest solution on the table”.
“Our goals have to be bold!”, Whitmer declared. She cited that at a recent meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington D.C., that all U.S. Governors are addressing the need to “Improving the skills of their residents and fixing infra-structure”.
Next, the Governor addressed her plan to increase funding for education and lowering the cost of college. “Everyone is different”, Whitmer exclaimed, “We need a mindset of rock climbing. Everyone has their own path, but they lead to prosperity for all”. She explained that residents should be able to get training that leads to a good job and that if they graduate from a Community College they should have “no debt when (they) leave!”.
Governor Whitmer also acknowledged public school teachers in the room and declared that there is a “looming teacher shortage that is affecting every school district in Michigan”. She highlighted her proposed increase in educational funding and lamented that funding over the years has declined when considering inflation and other factors.
The Governor concluded her presentation by declaring that “a $2.5 Billion problem cannot be fixed with a $1 Billion solution” and confiding, “I don’t take any of this lightly. Its an honest solution I put on the table. If there is a way to make it better, I want to do that!”. Following a short question and answer session, derived from selected cards filled out by audience members before the meeting began, the Governor thanked everyone for attending and left to a polite round of applause.
State Representative, Julie Calley (R-Portland), who attended the town hall and sat in the front row, shared with The Beacon after the event that any of the Governor’s proposed solutions on infrastructure, “must not favor urban over rural”, and shared that she understands , “70% of the proposed new funding for roads will go to State and Federal” road projects in Michigan. Regarding the Governor’s proposed increase in educational funding, Calley expressed concern that some of the better funded urban school districts should not be treated the same as poorer funded rural districts and that strong consideration be given to additional funding for “at-risk” students.