LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Flush with surplus state revenues, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for a series of targeted tax cuts while outlining her legislative agenda and touting accomplishments during her fourth State of the State address.
Whitmer, who is up for reelection this fall, said on Wednesday that the state of the state is strong and getting stronger.
Like last year, the speech was held virtually due to the pandemic. It is usually held in person at a joint session of the Michigan Legislature. She delivered it from Detroit Diesel to celebrate the state’s 185th birthday.
At the beginning of her speech, Whitmer honored the lives of the four students who died after a shooting at Oxford High School. She told people who want to help to go to oxfordcommunityvictimsfund.com.
Whitmer asked Michigan to remember the 30,000 residents who have died because of COVID-19, and thanked first responders, healthcare professionals and the Michigan National Guard. She said we’ve come a long way in the pandemic.
“While 2021 wasn’t as miraculous as any of us wanted, we have made progress,” Whitmer said. “We’re stronger in large part thanks to science and life-saving vaccines. We have come a long way, and I am encouraged about the path ahead.”
She said that even with things like the pandemic and a plot to kidnap her, she shows up for every Michigan family.
Everyone wants the same things, she said — like a good-paying job, great schools, clean water, safe communities and successful small businesses — and she said she’d be focusing on those things that unite us.
Watch her full remarks in the player below.
Since she took office, Whitmer says the state has worked on 13,000 lane miles of road and over 900 bridges, including fixing I-196 and I-94 in 2021. She touted the $479M from the federal government that will be used to build a new lock at the Soo Locks in the Upper Peninsula.
The prevailing wages for state construction projects that she reinstated in 2021 — three years after Republican legislators had repealed the law that requires better pay — is ensuring Michigan has the best-trained workforce, Whitmer said.
She said infrastructure is a large task because of decades of neglect and underfunding, and the state is fixing them in a way to make sure they stay fixed, while also creating jobs.
Along with touting infrastructure accomplishments, the governor took the opportunity to remind people to slow down while driving near construction workers.
General Motors on Tuesday announced a $7 billion investment into the state to convert a factory to make electric pickup trucks and to build a new battery cell plant. The investment is expected to bring thousands of jobs to Michigan, a fact Whitmer touted.
“Democrats, Republicans, businesses, utilities, and labor joined forces to equip Michigan with solid economic tools to attract big projects and create thousands of jobs,” she said.
Whitmer also talked about investing in the police force, reminding people about the new Michigan State Police posts built in Walker and Grand Rapids. She said the state is funding better training, brought hazard pay for law enforcement and has expanded resources for local departments. She also mentioned the new veteran home in Grand Rapids.
One in three children who are 12 and under are now eligible for free or low-cost childcare, Whitmer said, saying the state has expanded access to good childcare,.
She touted the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontlines programs, saying they boost the economy and have helped 170,000 people.
The state has made the largest investment in education in its history and closed the funding gap between schools, she said.
Whitmer thanked teachers and school staff members, saying the state would keep investing in recruitment and retention.
“Soon, I’ll introduce a school aid budget that will mark the biggest state education funding increase in more than 20 years — without raising taxes,” she said.
She said the state is doing everything it can to keep kids in the classroom and allow schools to continue in-person learning.
A call for specific tax cuts was prefaced with a reminder that she signed a bipartisan bill in December that cut personal property taxes for small business owners. She also reminded people the state repealed the tampon tax.
“When it comes to delivering for women, I will keep finding ways to lower their costs,” Whitmer said. “And I’ll veto any legislation that would take away their right to choose.”
Whitmer laid out two tax proposals for the state, saying taxes should be fair for seniors and working families. She called for exempting retirement income from taxation, saying it would save half a million Michigan households an average of $1,000 a year. She suggested the tax should be phased out over a few years, and said she first called for it to be repealed in 2019.
“Repealing the retirement tax will help real people,” she said.
She then said the state should increase the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, fully restoring a credit for 730,000 low- and moderate-wage families who on average would get an extra $350 annually.
COST OF INSULIN, ELECTIC VEHICLES
Attorney General Dana Nessel announced earlier in the day Wednesday that she is launching an investigation into Eli Lilly, one of the nation’s largest makers of insulin, over pricing.
Hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents need the medication to survive, Whitmer said during her address, noting the average vial costs is $100, a price that tripled from 2009 to 2019. She said drug companies jacking up the price is “unconscionable,” and they need to be held accountable.
Bipartisan bills introduced in the Michigan legislature would cap the cost to $50 a month, Whitmer said.
“Too many Michiganders are forced to forgo insulin or ration it — putting their lives at risk,” she said.
The governor also wants to make electric vehicles more affordable.
She proposed a $2,500 state credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle and charging equipment on the heels of General Motors’ announced $7 billion investment in Michigan.
Everyone is feeling the impacts of inflation, she said. She touted the auto insurance refund residents will see this spring, and said things like her tax cut proposals and her proposals to lower costs on insulin and electric vehicles will help.
Her final proposal was to expand mental health access, saying the state should work to invest in the mental health workforce.
“Nearly 40% of Michiganders do not get treatment for their mental illness,” she said. “Together, we can grow our mental health workforce and expand access to mental health care.”
The state should expand the state’s Loan Repayment Program for mental health professionals, she said, and make an investment to retain and recruit hundreds more mental health workers. She also proposed an investment in next year’s school aid budget to help hire more nurses, counselors and social workers for schools.
She wrapped up by talking about Michigander’s drive to make a difference.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is: do we believe in Michigan? I know I do. I believe because of you. I will work hard every day to put Michiganders first. I will always believe in Michigan because we are strong and getting stronger every day,” she said.
Many state lawmakers offered their reactions to the speech.
Offering Republicans’ assessment of the state of the state on Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake criticized Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic, particularly her use of executive and health orders.
“Though it’s unfortunate, the state of our state can best be described as a not-so-humorous rendition of ‘Groundhog Day,'” Shirkey said. “Michiganders trapped in an endless treadmill of confusing, conflicting and inconsistent orders and mandates, leaving us suffering from economic turmoil, rampant mental health emergencies, empty grocery store shelves and school closures causing children to fall further and further behind.”
“We got here because of ineffective and tone-deaf leadership both in Washington and the governor’s mansion allowed Michigan to be controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic and invalidated our fellow citizens’ sensibilities,” he continued. “Informing, inspiring and trusting people to make the right decision has been replaced by unilateral and often illogical executive orders based on a common theme of fear.”
Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said her speech left him “skeptical.”
“The governor’s words about bipartisanship and calls for working together haven’t always been followed up by her actions. For the third year in a row, the governor called on everyone to work together, and like many others listening tonight, her words left me feeling skeptical,” Outman said in a statement.
House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski from Scio Township had a very different take.
“I was very excited to listen to the governor’s speech with my husband and family and to really get excited about our look to the future,” Lasinski said. “We have an historic opportunity to make investments in economic growth and development, good paying jobs, building the economy of the future.”
— New 8’s Rachel Van Gilder, Rick Albin and Corinne Moore contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.