Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was out and about in Flint on Thursday, the first stop in what she’s calling her “Post State of the State Tour.”
Whitmer is talking about some of the key initiatives she laid out in her annual address. I had a chance to speak one-on-one with the governor last night (Jan. 26) after her speech -- about the instant reaction from her critics, her agenda during this election year and more.
Devin: “Do you see a difference in public pensions vs. private pensions? Should they be treated differently or is everybody due the break you want to give some?”
Whitmer: “Everyone who is retired and had the rules changed on them after a lifetime of work -- it’s only fair to give them the support they need by cutting the tax.”
It took no time at all for the Michigan GOP to criticize the governor for how long it’s taken to give the pension tax the axe. And, of course, that’s a reminder that there is an election on the horizon, which the governor insists isn’t impacting her agenda.
Devin: “I’ve known you a long time. You are too savvy a politician and you’ve been around too long to not understand the pressures of an election year that are going to come to bear.”
Whitmer: “You know what? The people of Michigan, they don’t give a rip that it’s an election year. They expect us to find common ground and they expect to keep investing in our kids’ schools and fixing the damn roads.”
Of course, the big news of the week -- and of the year for that matter -- arrived the day before. The announcement of the massive investment in Michigan from General Motors. The government sees it as proof of the power of cooperation and hard lessons learned.
Whitmer: “We got this done with the legislature working with business, republicans, democrats, labor, utilities. We now have tools that we haven’t had before.”
Devin: “Even as recently as last year with Ford?”
Whitmer: “Oh, yeah, absolutely. This is all in the last couple of months.”
All of that investment is toward electrification, which is partly why the governor wants the state to add its own electric vehicle incentives.
Devin: “The people who buy Teslas, for example, by and large have an average household income of $150,000, which is twice the national average. So, some people are going to see that this is giving money to people who don’t need it. They’re already, they’re already investing in these vehicles that are right now, frankly, expensive.”
Whitmer: “Well, the fact that it may benefit some people on that end of the scale, that’s secondary to what our goal is. Our goal is to help Michiganders transition. We know that electric vehicles are cheaper to maintain, that ultimately they transition to the new economy.”
There wasn’t a lot in the address on the pandemic, though Whitmer says her focus on mental health is very pandemic-conscious.
Whitmer: “In our last budget, we put 560 more nurses and counselors and social workers in our schools. In this year’s budget you’ll see us do even more on that front. Our kids have been through a lot and COVID has been an incredible disruption. We’ve got to get them in school, keep them in school and give them the wrap around support so they can be on track and thrive.”