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Whitmer focuses on economic, civil rights, safety issues during State of the State

Governor Gretchen Whitmer smiles as she delivers the State of the State Address.
Michigan Executive Office of the Governor

Governor Gretchen Whitmer used her fifth State of the State address to promote economic, education, and civil rights issues Wednesday night.

The speech kept a celebratory nature as it was the first in-person gathering for the speech since 2020. It was also the first time Democrats controlled the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature in 40 years.

A large part of Whitmer’s economics plan centered around taxes and education.

The governor called on lawmakers to expand the earned income tax credit for low- and moderate-income workers. She also stressed the need to end taxes on pension income.

“Repealing the retirement tax will make a huge difference for our seniors. Ultimately, it will save 500,000 households an average of 1,000 bucks a year. That’s money for prescriptions, groceries, gas, or gifts for grandkids. I fought this tax as a legislator and as governor because I knew it hurt people,” she said.

The Michigan Senate is planning votes on both those bills Thursday morning.

While Republicans have supported expanding the EITC, they’re criticizing Democratic plans to help retirees as unfairly prioritizing public pensioners.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp) said Whitmer’s economic plans don’t do enough to lower costs for working families.

“It was a very political speech, kind of spiking the football. And really what we wanted to see was something that was more inclusive, and was more of a sign of working together between the parties. And I don't think she did that,” Hall said.

Hall said Republicans are in favor of Whitmer’s agenda of developing the economy and supporting law enforcement. But they want her to give specific details before they get behind her spending priorities.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp) said he sees more agreement with the governor on other economic issues like development incentives.

“She talked about those, and I think those were ones that she knows require bipartisan support to actually get done and so if she’s serious about growing the economy, investing in jobs here in the state, she can govern in the middle 70% if she wants to get some of this stuff done,” he said.

Education and workforce readiness also made up large parts of Whitmer’s economic policy proposal. She asked lawmakers to expand the state’s Great Start Readiness Program to pay for free preschool for four-year-olds.

Whitmer also told lawmakers she wants to see legislation for the MI Kids Back on Track tutoring program on her desk by spring break.

Whitmer's speech also called for gun safety measures.

"We must do more so the world our kids inherit is not more violent than the one we inhabit now. The time for only thoughts and prayers is over,” Whitmer said.

The governor specifically brought up red flag and safe storage laws as policies she’d like to see passed in Michigan.

Both ideas struggled to get support in the past when Republicans controlled both chambers of the Michigan Legislature.

Democrats will have to contend with narrow majorities when trying to pass any gun laws now that they control the House and Senate.

After the governor’s speech, House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said everyone in his caucus is on the same page when it comes to gun violence.

“I no longer want to have these conversations with parents who lost their child to gun violence and still continue to say that nothing’s been done,” Tate said. “It will take a significant amount of effort at the end of the day but it’s something that we do have to get done.”

House Democrats flipped the chamber by turning several swing districts blue.

They also can’t afford to lose any of their 56 votes, as they found out Tuesday when trying to pass a year-end book closing budget bill. One member who was absent due to his wife giving birth earlier that day had to drive from St. Joseph to Lansing to cast the deciding vote.

While Whitmer’s address mainly stayed on target with bills lawmakers have already introduced, she left out one main priority: a repeal of the state’s right-to-work law. That keeps employers from requiring workers to pay union dues.

Democratic Representative Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) serves as House Majority Floor Leader. He said it remains a top priority for the Legislature.

“We are just making sure that we are going to do all the things that Michiganders want us to do. And I wish we had much longer but we know that every two years is an election so we will prioritize it as a top issue and there’s no mistaking that we will get it done,” Aiyash said.

He said Whitmer’s comments on climate and infrastructure stood out to him the most.

Aiyash indicated proposals dealing with flooding, safe drinking water, and holding polluters accountable could be coming soon.

Other policies Whitmer championed during her speech include repealing Michigan’s defunct 1931 abortion ban and expanding civil rights protections to sexuality and gender identity.

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