GREAT LAKES BEACON

Top Takeaways from Whitmer’s First State of the State

Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave her first State of the State on Tuesday, prioritizing roads and infrastructure, improving education, the environment, nondiscrimination in state government, skilled trades, and higher education.

Whitmer also made a call for working together, saying, “Michigan’s problems are not partisan problems. Potholes are not political. There is no such thing as Republican or Democratic school kids or drinking water. Our challenges affect us all. And they will require us all, working together, to solve.”

Below are the key points made in the aforementioned issues:

 

Roads

It should come as a surprise to no one that the woman who ran on the campaign slogan, “fix the damn roads,” would use her first formal statewide address to talk about just that.

While she largely asked Michigan to stay tuned for her budget presentation next month on the specifics, she acknowledged the solution will undoubtedly seem like a big ask, but that, “We need to act now before a catastrophe happens or the situation becomes truly unrecoverable.”

She also said incremental fund shifts in the state budget – like those seen under Rick Snyder administration’s – will not fix the problem.

It is unlikely the solution will involve a ballot proposal, though, as it was just in May 2015 that voters soundly rejected a plan that would have increased the state sales tax to 7 percent (from 6 percent) and taken the sales tax off fuel sales but increased fuel taxes (which most people don’t realize they are even paying at the pump). Whitmer was in her last year in the state Senate in December 2014 when that proposal was put forth (she joined a unanimous Senate in support of that package).

 

Healthcare, Transparency and Equal Rights

As she wrapped her speech, Whitmer pledged to protect the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion that provides healthcare for more than 650,000 Michiganders who previously did not have coverage.

In fact, she said she has already taken action on the matter by notifying the Trump administration that she intends to change a law passed by majority Republicans last year forcing people on Medicaid to work a certain number of hours or forfeit coverage (with some exceptions).

Secondly, she supports Attorney General Dana Nessel’s joining 19 other states to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, she said, rather than seek to undermine it as former AG Bill Schuette did.

Whitmer also set the record straight on the exemption the governor’s office and the legislature has from the Freedom of Information Act, saying, “Let’s expand FOIA to my office and to the legislature. It’s time to ensure the sun shines equally on every branch of government.”

The governor has also already signed an executive directive to prohibit state employees from using personal email for conducting state business.

Whitmer made a call for the legislature to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

And for women, Whitmer reflected on her executive directive prohibiting state government from asking applicants about salary history, providing a way for women – who make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job – to “ensure past discrimination doesn’t hurt a woman’s future earnings.”

She added, “Those same protections extended to all Michigan women would cut the poverty rate among working women in half. It would cut the poverty rate among working single moms by even more. Michigan women’s annual income would increase enough to pay for, on average, nearly 14 months of rent or more than 18 months of child care. That’s how we build a stronger economy.”

 

Education/Skilled Trades

Whitmer spent some time on education, noting that a lack of investment by the state in recent years has landed Michigan with “the worst decline in childhood literacy” annually since 2014. She also acknowledged a need for further investment in skilled trades.

She combined the two later to announce a new, statewide goal of increasing the number of residents between the ages of 16 and 64 with a post-secondary credential to 60 percent by 2030, as well as an initiative called Michigan Reconnect to train adults seeking certification for a particular industry a path to obtaining it. She said the latter was modeled after a similar effort in Tennessee that launched last year.

Also, for high school seniors who want to pursue a four-year degree but can’t afford it, Whitmer announced the MI Opportunity Scholarship to provide two years of tuition assistance at a four-year, not-for-profit college or university for students graduating with at least a B average. This is similar to an effort she made as a state senator, known as the Michigan 2020 plan.

 

Flint/Water/Environment

The governor said Flint’s water recently showed the lowest levels of lead and copper contamination since the start of the Flint water crisis four years ago, but “our work is not done,” she said.

So, Michigan should address contamination from old pipes and toxic chemicals known as PFAS that have more recently been found in bodies of water across the state, Whitmer said. She recently took executive action on this front, but majority Republicans in the legislature are in the midst of challenging it.

 

Distracted Drivers

Finally, Whitmer called on the legislature to pass a law joining 16 other states that have passed hands-free laws to discourage drivers – especially young ones – from using their phone while driving.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson