After beginning her State of the State address Wednesday night on a lighthearted note, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer quickly served the Republican-led legislature notice that she’s willing to go it alone to achieve her 2020 policy goals.
Whitmer began her address by humorously referencing social media blowback about the blue dress she wore at her inaugural State of the State speech one year ago.
“Everyone is looking fantastic tonight,” she began, but assured listeners her speech this year was about “issues not appearances.”
The governor covered four major policy initiatives she intends to pursue in 2020, including fixing the “damn” roads, education, jobs and health care.
Noting her chief campaign promise of repairing Michigan’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure was met with legislative and public resistance, Whitmer said she would forego an increased gas tax to attain her goals. Patience, she said, is appropriate for Lions’ fans but not a state with deteriorating roads.
“Impatience is a virtue,” she said.
“The voters hired us to solve Michigan’s toughest problems, not just the easy ones,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a statement. “Drivable roads, affordable health care, quality education for every child, good job opportunities and clean water – these are the non-negotiable goals in front of us.”
Whitmer said the state's roads are dangerous.
“Aand the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to fix them,” Whitmer said. “That’s why I’m taking action now to fix the damn roads and keep Michiganders safe. My Rebuild Michigan plan will ensure we start moving dirt this spring and save us money in the long run.”
In a pointed remark referring to the legislature’s dismissal of her “Plan A” to fund road repairs with a $0.45 per gallon gasoline tax, Whitmer continued: “But if we’re going to fix all the dangerous roads in Michigan, Republicans need to step up and get serious about finding a long-term road funding solution for our local roads and bridges. I’ll work with them when they’re ready, but in the meantime, I’m going to get to work fixing our state roads on my own.”
Whitmer’s Plan B for 2020 involves the sale of bonds that would take advantage of current low-interest rates to “save time, save money, save lives,” she asserted.
"It's completely disingenuous of Whitmer to say the legislature won't negotiate with her,” Tori Sachs, Michigan Rising Action executive director, said in an email sent during Whitmer’s speech.
“The legislature gave her hundreds of millions of dollars last year for roads that she then vetoed,” Sachs continued. “Negotiating means working with people to find a common solution. Whitmer’s ‘my way or the highway’ attitude is going to leave Michiganders with compounding credit card debt and rim bending local roads."
On education, Whitmer declared she would attempt to remedy what she labeled the “punitive” aspects of the Third Grade Reading law signed by her predecessor, former Gov. Rick Snyder. The law, scheduled to be fully enacted in 2020, would hold back third-graders who fail to pass a standardized literacy test.
Whitmer indicated her administration would work with foundations to form a partnership to increase third-grade literacy without specifically stating she would end the requirement to force failing students to retake third grade.
“It’s disheartening to hear that Governor Whitmer wants to remove the safety net for struggling readers in our state,” Great Lakes Education Project Executive Director Beth DeShone told The Center Square.
“Every parent dreams of a bright future for their child and that foundation for success happens with early literacy, even if that means an additional year of third grade to receive intensive support to become a strong reader,” DeShone said.
On health care, the governor asked legislators from both parties to enact laws protecting people with preexisting medical issues, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and ensuring birth control of the woman’s choice and other pregnancy, birth and postpartum care resources.
"Gov. Whitmer is clearly taking her cues from the national far-left by embracing Medicare-for-all and not actually offering a plan to address the problem of lowering prescription drug costs," Sachs said.
Regarding jobs, Whitmer said: “Since I took office, we announced nearly 11,000 new auto jobs – that’s 5 times more than the previous year and it’s the most ever announced in a single year in the history of the MEDC,” she said.
“It’s the nature of politicians to name-check big projects and big deals in speeches like this so that they can take credit for things they didn’t do, but some of Governor Whitmer’s most impactful economic development accomplishments in 2019 actually came from the things she didn’t do,” John C. Mozena, president, The Center for Economic Accountability, told The Center Square.
“She didn’t continue having taxpayers pick up the cost of the tourism companies’ advertising through the Pure Michigan campaign; and she didn’t repeat Governor Snyder’s mistake of supporting the ‘Good Jobs for Michigan’ tax credits that ended up being such a terrible idea that the Senate didn’t even bother to hold a vote to renew them for 2020,” Mozena said.