Whitmer delivers first State of the State address

Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 8:48pm

Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her first State of the State address in the Michigan State Capitol Building Tuesday evening.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers her first State of the State address in the Michigan State Capitol Building Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her State of the State address to Michigan lawmakers Tuesday night at the state capitol in Lansing.

Whitmer began her address with a joke about being asked to “fix the damn weather” — a nod to one of her main campaign refrains to “fix the damn roads.” After thanking members of the state legislature for attending, Whitmer dedicated the majority of her speech to discuss her plans for repairing Michigan’s infrastructure and education system.

“Turning a blind eye or passing phony fixes won’t solve our problems,” Whitmer said. “In fact, they make it harder. Filling potholes instead of rebuilding roads. Pretending that little increases can fix an education crisis like we have … A government that does not work today can’t get the job done for tomorrow and that ends now.”

The Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan a D+ grade in infrastructure overall and a D- grade for state roads in their Infrastructure Report Card, with only 18 percent of roads being considered in good condition. Whitmer asked Michiganders to share their personal experiences with what she called an “infrastructure crisis.”

“We need to act now though, before a catastrophe happens, before the situation becomes truly unrecoverable,” Whitmer said. “To everyone at home who is tuning in: Share your stories about what the infrastructure crisis means to you. Take a picture of your damaged car or your repair bill or a pothole outside your house and post it with #FTDR.”

Whitmer further expressed concerns over education. A report from researchers at Michigan State University released in January found Michigan’s public school financing was nearly 20 percent lower than it was in the 1990s, a drop in funding unparalleled in any other state in the country. Whitmer said the money in the state budget typically used for K-12 funding has been used to fill other areas of the state budget. She blamed the government, not the educators or students, for allowing Michigan’s education system to falter.

“I want to send a message to all the devoted educators across Michigan: You’re not failing us. We have been failing you,” Whitmer said. “Our educators and our kids deserve our support, not a funding crisis that undermines the work in the classroom, that weakens our schools and compromises the education.”

Whitmer laid out her plans that included three separate pathways for high school graduates. For those already in the workforce, Whitmer detailed her “Michigan Reconnect” plan, which will teach already employed individuals new skills to adjust to the changing workplace. Her “My Opportunity” scholarship program offers two years of community college free to graduating high school seniors seeking an associate’s degree. The third pathway would be another scholarship under the “My Opportunity” program but would give two years free to students attending a public four-year institution.

In response to President Donald Trump’s new health care plans, Whitmer said she wrote to the president to defend the Affordable Care Act. She personally thanked Attorney General Dana Nessel for leading the fight.

Whitmer ended her address by promising to work with both parties. She believes working together is the best way to help Michigan.

“The enemy is not the person across the aisle,” Whitmer said. “The enemy is apathy, the enemy is extreme partisanship. The enemy is self-interest. When we stand together as Michiganders … we can get the job done for the people of our state.

One of Whitmer’s administration’s priorities is addressing hazardous water conditions, she said. Even though Flint water was tested and found to have its lowest levels of lead since before the water crisis, other contaminants such as PFAS are polluting the Great Lakes and the state’s rivers.

In order to support the next generation of entrepreneurs in the region, Whitmer made a promise to connect small businesses with contracting opportunities. She said promoting economic development in Michigan meant supporting in-state investment.

In her speech, Whitmer noted her filing of an executive directive to ban the use of private emails for governmental purposes. She also extended the use of Freedom of Information Act requests to the executive department of the state government. Whitmer also filed executive directives in January prohibiting employers from asking all applicants what their past salaries were as well as a directive banning state government from discriminating based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

State Rep. Matt Hall, R-Emmett, told The Daily he was concerned Whitmer did not offer a payment plan for any of her initiatives.

“I thought there were a lot of good sounding ideas,” Hall said. “However, I want to see how we’re going to pay for it before I decided whether I want to support the proposals. I think that anytime you’re promising large expansions of new government programs, you have to also identify how you’re going to pay for it and I did not hear anything from the governor about how she intends to pay for these programs. I will say that makes me very concerned that she’s proposing enormous tax increases. The last time Michigan was a high tax state, we led the country in job loss.”

Despite some worries from Republican legislators, Michigan’s Democrats seemed to leave the address with largely positive feelings. Minority Floor Leader Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, told The Daily he was overall very satisfied with Whitmer’s speech.

“I thought it was amazing,” Rabhi said. “It was great to have an opportunity to listen to a speech where I actually wanted to stand up for a good chunk of it and it was just so cool to hear her talk about the skills gap and how we’re going to address it. Talking about funding for our education, community colleges and higher education and then our environment. The fact that she talked about clean water and the work we need to do in that category. There’s so much that this governor is passionate about that she outlined in the speech and I am just so excited to work with her and get some of this stuff done.”

Paul Ajegba, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, told The Daily he was especially pleased with her plans to improve the workplace.

“I was in the meetings that she mentioned with all the executives,” Ajegba said. “There was a common theme Michigan workforce, the supply is not meeting the demand, which means a lot of these companies are going to out of state because we’re not producing enough workforce to meet that demand. I think she did an outstanding job today.”