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Whitmer sets optimistic tone in 4th State of the State

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Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
This was the second year in a row that the speech was moved from the state Capitol due to COVID-19. The venue, instead, was Detroit Diesel – an auto parts manufacturer.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered her fourth State of the State address Wednesday night with an optimistic tone that could easily double as a case for her reelection in November.

This was the second year in a row that the speech was moved from the state Capitol due to COVID-19. The venue, instead, was Detroit Diesel – an auto parts manufacturer – and it was delivered before a small invitation-only in-person audience.

Governor Whitmer delivered the final State of the State of her first term with a fervent defense of her administration’s handling of COVID-19.

“While 2021 was not as miraculous as any of us wanted, we have made progress,” she said. “We’re stronger, in large part thanks to science and life-saving vaccines. We’ve come a long way and I’m encouraged about the path ahead.”

That’s as the seven-day averages for new COVID cases and reported deaths due to the coronavirus are showing signs of abating.

The governor airbrushed past political fights over pandemic restrictions and mandates and showcased, instead, instances of bipartisan deal-making -- funding for childcare, financial help for small businesses and more money for job training and for schools, and economic development incentives for automakers.

“Tonight, I’ll stick to the things that unite us,” she said. “I’ll speak on the progress we have made together, the opportunity we have right now and why we all believe in Michigan. The state of our state is strong, and getting stronger every day.”

The governor proposed rebates for electric vehicle purchases, a boost in the state earned income tax credit for low-income workers, reducing taxes on pensions and retirement savings, and capping the cost of insulin for diabetics.

The response from many Republicans was to accuse Whitmer of running off with their ideas or to question the governor’s sincerity.

In a virtual press conference before the speech, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said lifting COVID restrictions and returning kids to school came too late.

“It is now time to put the narrative of fear and uncertainty in the rearview mirror and move forward with confidence and trust in our fellow Michiganders,” he said. “COVID has not gone away. It is time to accept that it may never go away for good and it is time to move forward.”

Shirkey said he still opposes vaccine mandates and acknowledged he has not been vaccinated. Shirkey said there’s no need for him to get the vaccine because he has immunity from an earlier COVID infection. That is contrary to the advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Republicans say the state should move more aggressively than what Whitmer has called for on tax cuts. Just hours before Whitmer’s speech, a Senate committee adopted a bill to tap into a hefty budget surplus to roll back the state income tax.

But that’s a one-time source that will eventually dry up, says Michigan State University economics professor Charles Ballard. He says a race to cut taxes without a permanent source of replacement revenue would be shortsighted.

“The trouble with a tax cut is that we know that know politically it is very difficult to reverse a tax cut,” Ballard said in an interview with Michigan Public Radio.

That is a complication Governor Whitmer will have to manage as she tries to steer Michigan past the crisis stage of the pandemic and put herself in a position to win reelection and the chance to deliver the State of the State address again next year.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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