In a Nutshell:
- Michigan faces numerous overlapping health, economic, social, and political challenges.
- Calls for bipartisan cooperation in Lansing are welcome, but skepticism still abounds.
- Citizens Research Council publications provide valuable information on many of the policy topics addressed in this year’s State of the State address.
It is difficult to claim 2020 was anything other than a horrible year for Michigan, filled with various misfortunes—an annus horribilis, as dubbed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in her third State of the State address.
A global pandemic that claimed the lives of nearly 15,000 Michiganders so far and left many others with lasting health complications, while also stifling Michigan’s economy and disrupting education, the arts, and other important activities in our daily lives, has certainly defined the year 2020. It seems safe to say that everyone is tired of the pandemic. Nonetheless, the ongoing gravity of this health crisis shouldn’t allow us to forget the many environmental, social, and democratic challenges that also befell the state, such as the Midland flood, public uprisings, and the contesting of a fair and legitimate election, all amid growing mental health and substance abuse crises that predate this year of horrors.
Not surprisingly, discussion of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic featured prominently in the address, during which the Governor took time to defend Michigan’s pandemic response.
While the response hasn’t been perfect (at times putting public health infrastructure and systems to the test), the Governor asserted Michigan has done a good job at containing the spread of COVID-19 in comparison to other states. While some have characterized public health orders in Michigan as government overreach, these orders have been effective at slowing the spread of the virus. New research shows Michigan had the lowest case count among Midwestern states over the holidays; Indiana, with the weakest government response, had the highest case count.
Governor Whitmer also expressed eagerness to work with the new Biden Presidential Administration to end the pandemic; changes in policy guidance by the new administration almost guarantee a more active and visible federal presence in Michigan and other states working to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
The Governor asserted that, absent federal action, she has worked to provide relief to Michigan’s businesses, claiming credit for the bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill passed last year and urging legislative passage of her MI COVID Recovery Plan. While the state has so far avoided extreme measures of fiscal stress, slow economic momentum and growing unemployment are causes for concern that state-level economic relief alone may not be able to solve.
The precariousness of Michigan’s current economic situation reflects a continued overreliance on low-wage service and hospitality jobs alongside manufacturing. The Governor made several statements on the importance of bringing good jobs to Michigan, requesting legislative reauthorization of the aptly named Good Jobs for Michigan economic development program, and stressing that a strong economy must be built upon a healthy and well-educated workforce – something we have long argued at the Citizens Research Council.
Regarding education, the Governor touted the new MI Reconnect program announced in her first State of the State Address, alongside the new Futures for Frontliners program (noting that 82,000 have been accepted into the program). While certainly not perfect, these programs create new pathways to skilled workforce training and credentialing. She also noted steps towards a weighted formula in K-12 education funding that more accurately reflects student and community needs.
Beyond health and education, the Governor noted that investment in infrastructure is also central to growing Michigan’s economy. She highlighted new state road construction projects resulting from her road bonding plan. She also highlighted ideas to provide local units of government more options for funding their own road projects. The Citizens Research Council was central in bringing these ideas forward.
Additionally, the Governor focused on the need for investment in water infrastructure, calling on the legislature to pass her MI Clean Water Plan. While we have yet to analyze the details of this newly released water infrastructure plan, the Citizens Research Council has long argued that poorly maintained infrastructure puts Michigan’s economy and the health of Michiganders at risk.
Much of the address centered around the need for collaboration, taking on a conciliatory tone and making calls for reducing partisan rhetoric.
Last year, we wrote how increased politicization of public policy issues threatens our health and well-being. It was therefore not surprising that the governor devoted so much of her speech to calls for bipartisan cooperation. It was unfortunately also not surprising that these calls for bipartisanship have, so far, been answered by a volley of partisan finger pointing and over the lack of bipartisanship in Lansing.
We support Governor Whitmer’s expressed desire to “fix the damn road ahead” by finding common ground to get us through the many overlapping crises we face as a state. While we see no easy or obvious solutions to the chasmic divides in our society, any common ground must certainly be predicated upon commonly accepted facts and data.
Bringing facts to the table and finding practical, actionable solutions to Michigan’s problems is our raison d’être, and we stand ready to help our state leaders move forward to any future annus mirabilis.
Only when Michiganders start doing a better job of working together can we say in earnest: si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice.