During Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s third annual State of the State address (which she delivered the first time virtually) on January 27, she stoically spoke about her unwavering support of the state’s strength and its residents’ endurance after dealing with 2020.
She remembered the over 14,000 Michiganders whose lives were lost to COVID, too.
“Every day, I think about the people who lost loved ones to this virus. Those who said goodbye to their parents over Zoom because it was too dangerous to go to the hospital. The spouses who sleep alone for the first time in years,” she said in her speech. “The Michiganders who still haven’t properly mourned. I think about my friend Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who spent a lifetime serving the people of Wayne County. … 14,000 people with stories… Throughout this crisis, the people of Michigan have harnessed the empathy and courage that make us who we are as Michiganders. The state of our state … is resilient.”
In her nearly hour-long address, she also talked about her support for Michiganders, the end of the pandemic, finding common ground, boosting the economy, and fixing the “damn” road ahead.
Whitmer announced plans like Michigan Back to Work: a plan to help the state grow its economy and get Michiganders back on steady ground. Over the next year, the Whitmer administration will announce initiatives and projects of all sizes– from tech, mobility, and manufacturing growth, to clean energy and road construction.
“This year is about fixing the damn road ahead – finding common ground to grow our economy and get families and businesses back on their feet,” Whitmer said. “The Michigan Back to Work plan that I’m announcing today will help us do just that. We will leverage all of the resources of state government to rebuild our economy back better, harnessing every economic tool at our disposal, and working with leaders in state government, business, and beyond to create an environment where entrepreneurs can create more good-paying jobs for all Michiganders. This is how we can jumpstart our economy and help families and business owners thrive in our state.”
She also talked about the MI Covid Recovery Plan, which Whitmer has called on the Michigan Legislature to work with her to pass the plan centered around distributing vaccines, getting students back on the right educational footing, supporting small businesses, and jumpstarting the economy. The plan includes a call on the Michigan Legislature to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks.
Other important initiatives include funding for local roads, which Whitmer is asking the Michigan legislature to work with her to provide local communities more options to fix local roads and bridges, which has received bipartisan support.
Last year, Whitmer announced the Rebuilding Michigan Bonding Plan to create and sustain tens of thousands of jobs and start fixing the damn roads without an increase at the pump. Since then, construction workers have completed the I-496 Rebuilding Michigan project in November, with hundreds of more projects on tap.
Whitmer also announced the MI Classroom Heroes grants of up to $500 each for teachers and support staff. These grants will go out in February and will help offset some expenses and the efforts Michigan’s educators have made throughout the pandemic.
She also called on the legislature to pass Good Jobs for Michigan legislation to keep and grow our businesses and create jobs. Pfizer was the first business to use Good Jobs for Michigan and did so to build their sterile drug manufacturing plant and create 450 good-paying jobs in Portage.
Also, the bipartisan Prescription Drug Task Force that Whitmer announced last year has developed a plan to lower prescription drug costs and create more transparency in how drugs are priced. Whitmer announced that members of her cabinet worked with bipartisan, bicameral members of the legislature to support legislation that requires transparency, holds accountable those profiting from skyrocketing prices, and makes necessary medications affordable for all Michigan families. She called on the legislature to pass this legislation and send it to her desk.
Whiter also announced the “Fixing the Damn Road Ahead” tour to engage with and learn from Michigan voters. She will engage with people across the state to focus on what unites us, improve how we talk to each other and fix the damn road ahead.
Lance Binoniemi, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association gave a statement applauding Whitmer for prioritizing infrastructure investments and he looks forward to working with her and our partners in the Legislature in the coming year.
“Poll after poll continues to show that Michigan’s roads continue to be a top priority for residents – second only to ending the pandemic. We also fully believe that funding underground water infrastructure is paramount to solving the decades-old problem of under-funded infrastructure in Michigan,” he said. “Tonight is an important step for this year’s legislative work, and we are ready and prepared to find bipartisan solutions to fix Michigan’s infrastructure problems for the long term.”
Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) President & CEO Justin Winslow said that it was encouraging to hear Whitmer’s commitment to improve the collective road ahead through increased vaccine distribution and by growing the economy to help get Michiganders back on their feet.
“We maintain that there is no faster way to build back better than through the systematic, expedited vaccination of Michigan’s hospitality industry,” he said, adding that more than 200,000 jobs since the onset of the pandemic. “Vaccination will provide safety to frontline workers, allow for the stable reintegration of Michigan’s second-largest employer and restore public confidence that they may safely dine and travel once again. Our members stand ready to partner with the governor to provide free vaccination sites at hotel banquet and convention spaces across the state.”
The Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs said in a statement that she echoes the governor’s call for a permanent restoration of 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits.
“The League opposed the shortsighted move to cut six weeks of state unemployment benefits in 2011, and has been advocating for the restoration of those benefits ever since,” Jacobs said in the statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for additional unemployment benefits, but we agree that it should be done permanently, not piecemeal. The challenges for unemployed and underemployed workers preceded COVID-19 and will continue even after the pandemic gets under control, and we need to ensure that an additional six weeks of financial support is always there.”
Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart gave a statement and said that the pandemic has “laid bare” many of the inequities in our education system.
“An important first step in addressing them is to embrace a new way of allocating state funding for schools that recognizes every student does not cost the same to educate,” she said. “Weighted funding for student populations like at-risk, special education, and English language learners is essential to ensuring we have both equity and adequacy in education funding.”
Dominick Pallone, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, said in a statement that MAHP thanks Whitmer for signing legislation passed last year to end surprise medical billing, which she mentioned in her speech.
“Ending surprise billing and getting a handle on skyrocketing drug costs are two important steps toward controlling rising medical costs in Michigan,” he said. “Now it’s time to move the drug transparency legislation to the governor’s desk. MAHP commits to work with Gov. Whitmer and the legislature to address this vital issue, as we did to address surprise billing.”
To view the governor’s full State of the State address, visit Michigan.gov/MISOTS21.