LANSING, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has sought “common ground” with the Republican-led Legislature in her third annual State of the State address Wednesday night.
Whitmer opened her address by shedding light on the lives lost to COVID-19 and those who lost loved ones to the virus this past year.
“Every day, I think about the people who lost loved ones to this virus,” Whitmer said. “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. The Michiganders who still haven’t properly mourned.”
The pandemic has contributed to the deaths of more than 14,000 residents.
While the State of the State is generally delivered before a packed House chamber at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, it was held virtually this year because of the pandemic.
Reflecting back on 2020, she highlighted the bipartisan work the Legislature has done including signing two bipartisan budgets for the Michigan Reconnect Program and the Clean Slate legislation.
The Democrat pitched a multibillion-dollar pandemic relief plan, which was first announced last week.
She urged legislatures to work with her on passing the plan that she says focuses on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, getting kids back on track in their education, helping small businesses and fixing the economy. The plan also calls to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks.
“This would bring Michigan in line with 40 other states and provide hard-hit Michigan workers with the financial security and peace of mind they deserve,” Whitmer said of her recovery plan.
The governor called on the Legislature to take up her recovery package as quickly as possible.
But the Republican announced a plan on Wednesday that demands Whitmer cede control of allowing in-person school and high school sports to county officials, with the party saying it will withhold funding to education if she doesn’t.
In another example of the abysmal relationship between the Legislature and the Democratic governor’s office, Republicans in the state Senate on Wednesday rejected 13 of Whitmer’s nominations to various boards and commissions. Approving those appointments is generally a nearly automatic function. This time, angry about Whitmer’s largely unilateral response to the coronavirus, senators apparently decided to not to give their OK unless her administration loosens more restrictions.
FIXING THE ROADS, CLEAN WATER AND JOBS
The governor also talked about fixing the state’s notoriously bad roads by providing more options to local communities. Last year, Whitmer announced the Rebuilding Michigan Bonding Plan to create jobs to help fix the roads. Wednesday night, the governor said several major roads have been worked on with hundreds more to go.
Whitmer asked legislatures to approve a $500 million initiative to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure to bring safe, clean water to communities. The plan also would expand the green infrastructure and support more than 7,500 jobs.
“I will keep working so every family in Michigan has clean, safe water,” Whitmer said.
Grants to help offset extraordinary efforts made by Michigan educators were also announced. The grants, which will go out in February, will give teachers up to $500.
“And I want to say thank you. Thank you to our incredible educators, administrators, and
support staff for their dedication to our students throughout this pandemic,” Whitmer said.
To maintain and grow businesses, Whitmer called on lawmakers to pass Good Jobs for Michigan. The governor noted that Pfizer, the company that manufactured the first COVID-19 vaccine in the country, was the first business to use Good Jobs for Michigan, creating hundreds of good-paying jobs.
The governor said the bipartisan Prescription Drug Task Force, which she announced last year, ended surprised billing and helped lower the prices of medications, making them more affordable.
The governor ended her speech by introducing the “Fixing the Damn Road Ahead” tour to help engage people across the state, regardless of their political affiliation.
WEST MICHIGAN SENATORS REACT TO STATE OF STATE ADDRESS
After the State of the State address, Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, and Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, spoke with News 8 political reporter Rick Albin.
WHITMER’S 2020 PLANS TO BACKSEAT TO COVID-19
While this year’s State of the State address was all about the road to recovery, last year’s remarks focused on Whitmer’s plans to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
In her 2020 address, Whitmer said she was willing and ready to move forward with a plan to fund road repairs without the approval of the state legislature.
“When it comes to tackling Michigan’s problems, I have got a Plan A and a Plan B,” Whitmer said during her 2020 State of the State address.
But it was Plan C — responding to the state’s unforeseen coronavirus crisis — that soon changed everything.
Within two months of delivering the January 2020 address, Whitmer would find herself issuing statewide restrictions in response to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s these executive orders that only widened the political divide, leading to Wednesday’s renewed calls for unity.
“We still have a lot of work to do — to join forces to end the pandemic and grow our economy,” Whitmer said.
Despite a few detours along the way, Whitmer managed to deliver on several of her pre-COVID-19 promises made during her 2020 address.
“While we had to focus on the virus, we proved that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. And a lot has happened,” she said.
Though a bit delayed, the state closed on its first $800 million bond to cover the cost of rebuilding some of the state’s most traveled roads.
“In 2021, that number is anticipated to reach $3.57 billion,” according to Whitmer’s updated roads and bridges plan released Wednesday.