Gov. Gretchen Whitmer previewed her take on roads, education and the skills gap during her Great Lakes Bay Economic Club visit at SVSU on Friday, Jan. 17.
The event was hosted by the GLBEC and sponsored by Dow.
During her talk, Whitmer gave a “little sneak peek” of her Jan. 29 State of the State Address.
Whitmer said she will continue to “fix the damn roads” in 2020. She said the gas tax she suggested last year to fund road repairs was not supported by the Legislature. However, Whitmer said she will continue trying to remove road repair funding from the state’s general service fund.
“We know that inaction is not an option,” she said. “We have work do.”
Whitmer said it “was not easy” to start last year with introducing the gas tax to pay for the roads.
“The Legislature did not put a plan on the table,” she said. “They put up roadblocks to solving the problems. There’s even an effort to make it harder for me to unilaterally solve the problem.”
She said she plans to “triage” the problem this year and noted that the average Michigander spent $700 on car repairs last year.
“While I remain ready to work with any legislator on any side of the aisle for a long-term solution, we must get started now,” she said.
Whitmer said she hopes to invest in education and to create a “good, high-quality life” so young people will want to stay once they graduate college. Part of achieving this will be providing more support to Michigan K-12 schools.
“I fought for a weighted funding formula for our schools,” she said. “Children in higher-poverty areas require more support to have a level playing field.”
Whitmer said the weighted formula will help bridge the learning gap in Michigan. The weighted formula would provide more funds to low-income schools and to students who receive special education services.
“Our schools still don’t have the resources they need to pay teachers, upgrade technology or reduce class sizes,” she said. “They need leaders who are going to prioritize the education of children.”
She said she will stay “laser-focused” on improving schools in 2020.
Whitmer said she wants to provide more skills training to Michiganders in order to fill the over 100,000 in-demand jobs the state has.
“With unemployment at a historic low, we know we have got to upscale our population,” she said. “There are great paying jobs in construction, in IT, in advanced manufacturing. But they demand the special skills training – training our young people don’t have experience with.”
Last year, Whitmer said she set the “ambitious” goal to increase the number of Michiganders with an advanced degree to 60 percent by 2030.
“It is ambitious – make no mistake, but it is absolutely doable,” she said. “To help us get there, we worked on the Michigan Reconnect program, which will give free skills training to adults ages 25 and up.”
Whitmer said she is “hopeful we’re going to get this to my desk soon so we can close the skills gap.”
“When Michiganders have skills, they make more money,” she said. “When they make more money, our economy is stronger. If we get this Reconnect off the ground, we need to make sure our students are ready to take advantage of these opportunities.”
To accomplish this goal, Whitmer said she visited high school seniors around Michigan and encouraged them to graduate with a plan to further their education in skilled trades, a two-year degree or a four-year institution.
“There is a way to make a good living in Michigan in all of those, and there is integrity in the work in each one of those,” she said.
Whitmer closed her speech by emphasizing the importance of fixing roads, bettering Michigan education and closing the skills gap.
“When we focus on these fundamentals, when we actually move the needle on these fundamentals, everyone benefits,” she said. “I know that I’ve got a Legislature that doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with me, to put it lightly. But I’m not going to stake out initiatives I don’t think there is ever hope in finding common ground on.”
Whitmer said focusing on these fundamentals will help everyone in the state.
“It’s good for business, improves quality of life and proves that Michigan is a place where (young people) will want to make their lives.” Whitmer challenged attendees to take action and be “part of the conversation” in helping Michigan grow.
“Serve in one way or another, whether that is as an officer holder or as the person who is supporting the officer holder to take these actions that are going to make life better for all of us,” she said.
Question and answer
J.J. Boehm, SVSU interim executive director of media and community relations, facilitated a question and answer session after Whitmer’s remarks.
One question asked about funding possibilities for roads “without legislative assistance.”
“For a long-term funding solution, I need to have a legislative partner that is serious about solving these issues,” Whitmer said. “The vote that I put on the table last year … was to get roads out of the general fund.”
Whitmer said keeping roads in the general fund will “eat up more and more of it,” since it is estimated to take up $2.5 million of the fund.
“Anyone in health care, anyone in education, anyone who cares about drinking water knows that all of these get compromised so long as roads are taking up our general service fund,” she said.
Another question addressed how to keep SVSU and Delta students in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
“Keeping our young people in Michigan is important to me personally,” she said.
Universal access to broadband would help young people work remotely, especially in the rural parts of the state, she said. Whitmer said that creating more civil rights protection and higher-quality K-12 education will also be part of keeping younger residents in Michigan.