When Gretchen Whitmer ran for governor last year, three of her most prominent campaign promises were to “fix the damn roads” and to solve the crisis in Michigan’s public education system which has remained mired in the bottom third of the nation and to ensure that all citizens have safe drinking water.
In her first State of the State address last week as Michigan’s new chief executive, Governor Whitmer recognized the urgency of the moment. She highlighted her plan to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure and education needs by promising her upcoming budget proposal would include a “real solution” for fixing Michigan’s roads and infrastructure, struggling schools and to address Flint’s water crisis once and for all.
“Next month, I will propose a budget for our state. My budget will offer a real solution to fixing our roads and rebuilding our infrastructure,” she said. “It will give our frontline educators the tools they need to address our literacy crisis. And most of all, it will reflect my unwavering commitment to making Michigan the home for opportunity.”
Whitmer said Michigan’s crumbling roads, bridges and failing infrastructure are a physical, financial and health hazard for the state, especially after the Flint water crisis and discovery of PFAS.
In fact, she noted that Michigan received a grade of D- and D+ for its roads and infrastructure, respectively, from the American Society of Civil Engineers — with just 18 percent of our roads are in “good” condition.“We need to act now, before a catastrophe strikes or the situation becomes truly unrecoverable, “Whitmer said. “Let’s come together and pass a budget that actually fixes the damn roads.”
“No one will invest in a state that doesn’t invest in itself. That’s the hard truth. And let’s be very clear: incremental fund-shifts, like we’ve seen in recent years, they just won’t fix the problem,” she said.
Turning to the state of public education, the governor said Michigan’s system of education is not preparing students to succeed and businesses are not investing in our state because our skills do not meet their expectations. Indeed, recent studies have shown that Michigan has experienced the worst decline in childhood literacy, which coincides with the slowest growth in K-12 education spending of any state in the nation.
“Our educators deserve our support, not a funding crisis that undermines their work, weakens our schools, and hurts our kids,” Whitmer said.
Recognizing that the Flint water crisis has become a source of international embarrassment for the state, Whitmer said the root of the problem was the failure by state departments to alert officials to imminent threats to public health.
She announced an executive directive instructing all state employees to notify their agency or department of any imminent threats to public health, safety or welfare.
“Valid concerns about public health and welfare will be acted upon,” Whitmer said.
During her State of the State address she also set a blueprint for other legislative priorities that include:
- Hands-Free Laws – The proposed legislation would ban any use of a mobile device by any driver of any type of vehicle expect emergency responders or someone legitimately requesting emergency services via 911.
- The expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to include sexual orientation, preference and identity, which would broaden protections to those in the LGBTQ community who face discrimination daily but are currently outside the scope of the law.
- Michigan Reconnect – Modeled on a highly successful bipartisan program in Tennessee, Michigan Reconnect is an economic-growth/workforce development program that would provide a tuition-free pathway to an in-demand industry certificate or associate degree for Michigan adults 25-years-old and older.
- Michigan Opportunity Scholarship – The Michigan Opportunity Scholarship offers two paths to help graduating high school students obtain a postsecondary credential. Path I provide graduating high school students with two years of tuition-free postsecondary education at a community college. This program is again modeled on a successful bipartisan program in Tennessee that seeks to address the expected skills gap and fill the workforce needs of businesses in the state. Path II provides two years of tuition assistance at a public or not-for-profit four-year university for students demonstrating financial need.
The Michigan Opportunity Scholarship program will be launched in the Spring and go into effect in 2020, Whitmer said. It will make Michigan the first state in the Midwest to offer debt-free community college.
“Every one of us needs skills to get into a good job,” she said.
Sandy K. Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber lauded Governor Whitmer’s address and said the Chamber is looking forward to working with her to achieve her goals.
“In her inaugural State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer showed her strength and leadership. As the only business organization to endorse Gov. Whitmer in the 2018 election, the Chamber thanks the Governor for recognizing the importance of building a robust talent pipeline and sharing the goal of 60 percent degree attainment for adults by 2030,” he said.
“We are committed to working with the Governor on her plan for infrastructure and to strengthen the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act,” Baruah said.