GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her annual State of the State address before a joint session of the Michigan Legislature Wednesday evening.
Whitmer began the speech by acknowledging Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids. Tate is the first Black man to hold the speaker role, while Brinks is the first woman to hold the majority leader role.
The two took the roles after Democrats took over both chambers of the house for the first time in four decades.
For a replay of the State of the State address, along with the Republican response, watch the video in the player below.
She also said she looked forward to solving problems with the minority leaders.
Whitmer then thanked Michigan State Police and the Michigan National Guard. She asked President Joe Biden to support the National Guard by continuing to base a fighter mission in Macomb County.
She also acknowledged Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, state employees, her cabinet and her executive office staff.
Whitmer then got into the meat of her speech.
“My fellow Michiganders. We spoke with a clear voice in November,” she said. “We want the ability to raise a family without breaking the bank. We want strong protections for our fundamental rights to vote and control our own bodies. Leaders who will work across the aisle to solve problems and deliver on the issues that make a real difference in our lives.”
She said the state is “strong and ready to go.”
Whitmer said her proposals during the speech will be aimed at helping people working to support their families, young people getting ready to graduate and young Michigan residents born today.
INFLATION: ‘LOWERING MI COSTS’
As many face rising costs, Whitmer spoke about inflation, saying they must work together to help lower costs of Michigan residents. She announced ‘Lowering MI Costs,” a plan that includes rolling back the retirement tax, which she said would save 500,000 homes an average of $1,000 a year.
“Seniors who served, saved, and did everything right deserve to keep more of what they earned,” Whitmer said.
The plan also includes expanding the Working Families Tax Credit. She said expanding it would bring a refund of $3,000 to 700,000 Michigan families.
Lowering MI Costs also includes offering pre-K for all Michigan families, which would save families an average of $10,000 every year, Whitmer said.
“I know we may have different perspectives here, but I sure hope we can get around supporting 4-year-olds in Michigan,” she said.
She talked about how it is difficult to find affordable preschool in Michigan and how important it is for students.
“Data shows that children who go to preschool are more likely to graduate, earn a certificate or degree and get a good-paying job. Preschool helps employers too, and that’s why so many business groups support it,” she said.
Whitmer called for expanding the Great Start Readiness Program.
Later in the speech, she talked about setting kids up for success, touting recent investments in schools.
Whitmer called for another strong education budget and funding ‘MI Kids Back on Track,’ which will help students who fell behind during the pandemic with tutoring. She said she wanted the program funded before spring break.
ECONOMIC GROWTH: ‘MAKE IT IN MICHIGAN’
The governor then called for focusing on “economic opportunity and personal freedom” to help recent graduates through a plan called ‘Make it in Michigan.’
She talked about new projects being built throughout Michigan, including a battery plant in Big Rapids.
“‘Make it in Michigan’ proposes a sustainable funding source for our economic development efforts while growing talent, making our communities better places to live and helping our state become a place where anyone can succeed,” she said.
The said the state should work to become the “world’s premier advanced manufacturing destination.”
She mentioned her recent trip overseas, where she spoke with business leaders about jobs in Michigan.
The governor also called for an increase in creating clean energy locally.
Whitmer also said they should lower the age requirement of the Michigan Reconnect program from 25 to 21. She touted the success of the program, which pays for people to complete associate’s degrees.
ABORTION, GAY RIGHTS
The governor then moved on to the issue of abortion.
She called for the repeal of a 1931 law, which bans abortion but was overruled by Proposal 3 during the November election. She thanks the Progressive Women’s Caucus for its work.
Whitmer also called for expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
“Let’s repeal outdated laws restricting who you can marry,” she said. “Let’s expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act so you can’t be fired or evicted for who you are or how you identify or who you love. That’s your business.”
She said protecting those freedoms is “good economics,” saying, “bigotry is bad for business.”
Whitmer also called for going on the ‘offense.’
“I’ll go to any state that restricts people’s freedoms and win business and hardworking people from them. I’m looking at you, Ohio and Indiana,” she said.
As was expected, she called for stronger gun control, saying public safety is a top priority. She said the state should continue funding training, oversight and mental health resources for law enforcement.
“Police officers, state troopers and prosecutors, they got tough, dangerous jobs. If we work together, we get them what they need to keep our communities safe,” she said.
She said there has been a “flood of illegal guns on our streets.”
“There’s been a rise of break-ins at gun dealerships and straw purchases,” she said. “…Firearms are getting more dangerous too, thanks to 3D printed technology called Glock switches that turn semi-automatic weapons fully automatic.”
She touted Operation Safe Neighborhoods, but said the state must do more.
“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over,” she said. “It’s time for commonsense action to reduce gun violence in our communities.”
She called for universal background checks, safe storage laws and extreme risk protection orders.
Whitmer said she is “not talking about law-abiding citizens.”
“Hunters and responsible gun owners from both sides of the aisle know we need to get these commonsense gun safety proposals across the finish line,” she said. “We need to do this for our kids.”
With her fellow Democrats now in control of both chambers of the state Legislature, they are in a better position to try to push through gun reform bills. Whitmer and Gilchrist have previously discussed secure storage and red flag laws that would aim to keep weapons out of the hands of people most likely to use them to harm someone. State Rep. Carol Glanville, D-Walker, has suggested there is willingness among some of her Republican colleagues to get on board.
INFRASTRUCTURE, CLIMATE CHANGE
The governor also touched on both infrastructure and climate change.
“Our state flower might as well be an orange barrel,” she joked.
She touted road projects, saying 16,000 miles and 1,200 bridges have been fixed since she took office. She said it will continue to be a priority for her and called for smart road technology to avoid crashes.
“I established the Michigan Infrastructure Office,” she said. “This year, it will redouble its efforts, helping to build up every kind of infrastructure: roads, high-speed internet, clean energy and lead-free pipes.”
The governor then said it’s important to “face climate change head-on,” saying the state needs to protect land and water, touting the MI Healthy Climate Plan.
MICHIGAN HAS A ‘BRIGHT FUTURE’
As she wrapped up her speech, she said she is honored to be the governor of Michigan.
“Before I go, I want to talk about an American superpower: belief,” she said. “I’ve always been a hopeful person. I believe in our bright future.”
She said she isn’t “naïve” and is aware of the “historic challenges” the state has faced over the last four years.
“The prevailing take now seems to be that things will get worse. And fatalism is in vogue, as people wonder aloud whether America’s best days are behind her. I reject that. We cannot mistake pessimism for intelligence and we must never forget who we are,” she said.
She said Michigan has an “unbreakable, hopeful spirit.”
“Michigan, let’s embrace our duty,” she concluded. “Let’s show everyone that the cure for cynicism is competence. Let’s lead by example as a state of hardworking, happy warriors. As (Lions) Coach Campbell said, we know what we are. So whether it’s your buffs, the map decal on your car, or your GRIT hat, let’s show the world we are Michiganders and nothings going to get in our way.”
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, offered the Republicans response to the speech, filmed in a grocery store.
“Far too many Michiganders are struggling to afford everyday necessities. By now, you know the numbers because you see them every time you visit the grocery store,” he said.
He said inflation has been getting worse over the last year, and Michigan residents have been forced to make decisions on what to pay for.
“Governor Whitmer had multiple opportunities to provide you with real relief to put more money, your money, back in your pocket, but she failed you by vetoing each proposal that was sent to her,” he said.
He called it a “fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats.”
“In this time of economic turmoil, Senate and House Republicans believe you know how to best to spend your money. The governor and Democrats believe it is they who know how to spend your money best,” he said.
He said the governor “set a record during her first term for vetoing bills.”
Nesbitt said state Senate Republicans will work with the governor. He said they will work to promote rights of parents, to improve reading and math scores in schools, to make neighborhoods safer and to fight inflation.
“Only together can we finally provide immediate relief now to working families and seniors on a fixed income,” he said.
The state has to decide what to do with a $9 billion surplus — the Legislature sets appropriations, but Whitmer offers input. There has been talk for about a year of figuring out how to send some of that money back to the people, but so far it has fallen flat.
Whitmer’s budget recommendations will come out next month, providing a clearer idea of her priorities. Her visits around the state in the coming days and weeks will also show what projects she hopes will be pushed forward by public support.
Democratic lawmakers may start with things they feel can quickly be accomplished with some bipartisan support. While they have the majority, it’s tight in the House. That means they’ll probably need to get at least some Republicans on board to move bills,
This was Whitmer’s fifth State of the State and the first of her second term. The previous two addresses were held virtually in deference to the pandemic.
— News 8’s Rachel Van Gilder contributed to this report.