GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toured the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids. She spoke with business owners inside about their experience during the past two years amidst the pandemic.
Following the tour, the governor sat down with 13 ON YOUR SIDE's Alana Holland, looking back on her administration's work at the end of 2021, and ahead to 2022.
She said 2020 was a tough year, and many hoped to say goodbye to COVID-19 this year. In many ways, it was frustrating.
"But there are a lot of good things happening," said Whitmer. "You know, as you look at our GDP is growing faster than our neighboring states, our personal income is the fourth highest growth in the nation right now, I was able to sign a $17 billion budget to fund our schools, the biggest investment we've ever made in our kids in Michigan, spanning daycare, leveling the financial barrier that keeps people from getting skills to get a good paying jobs and orange barrels everywhere."
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Michigan has a $3.5 billion surplus, which Whitmer said will help deliver real change.
Speaking on infrastructure, she said federal dollars on infrastructure and her Rebuilding Michigan bond plan is making strides to fix Michigan's roads.
"Decades of underinvestment can't be repaired overnight," said Whitmer, "but we're on we're on the road, literally."
Infrastructure also includes access to clean water, access to broadband and more.
"So one of the things I think that we are doing better than anyone else is detecting PFAS, detecting lead in water," said Whitmer. "We have the strictest standards in the nation. And so we're finding it. Doesn't mean it doesn't exist in other states, they're just not looking for it the way that we are in Michigan and they don't have the strong standards that we have. So, the whether it's the the budget that I've signed into law, or the infrastructure dollars that are coming, or the plans that I've laid out for ways we can use these federal dollars to help municipalities replace their infrastructure, or clean up where municipalities don't have the ability to do that, it's really important that we get it done. So, we're we're making headway, but I'd love for the legislature to embrace the Michigan Clean Water Plan, so we can do it all across the state of Michigan."
Earlier in 2020, Whitmer signed the school aid budget into law, eliminating a funding gap between schools. It also allowed the hiring of more than 500 mental health professionals to schools.
"So with this $17 billion investment, we've given schools the resources that they need to wrap our kids with the kind of supports they need to get back on track," said Whitmer. "COVID disrupted education for everyone, right? And there is work to do. Whether it is ensuring that we get social workers in our schools, or counselors, or nurses, a hungry child or a sick child is not going to be able to learn as well. And that's why we've got to administer to the whole child. And that includes mental health."
When asked about how the Oxford School Shooting may impact gun control in the state, Whitmer called it a "conversation that's long overdue." However, that is after supporting and grieving with the community.
"I would love to engage with the legislature to examine whether or not there are some steps we can take on the policy front to support communities," said Whitmer. "Obviously, there are things we can do in the budget. And there are some things we can't fix, and that's what's going on in individuals homes. But there's a policy, maybe it's around secure storage of firearms, perhaps we can find common ground. I'm not going to prejudge it, and I'm not going to say this is what we have to do. Because I can't do it alone. I need the legislature to work with me. All I can say is, I am genuinely, in a good faith way, interested in getting the table and seeing where we can find common ground."
Whitmer also emphasized the importance of investing in law enforcement, fire fighters and prosecutors for public safety. In August, she proposed a $75 million investment plan, which would allow police departments to hire more officers, tackle the court backlog and invest in violence intervention programs, social services and more.
"I think that there's more we can do on the policy front in Lansing," said Whitmer. "But it starts with supporting our first responders, the frontline. That's reflected in the in the budget that I signed, and I'm proud of that. But we've got to continue to be partners, we've got to continue to seek to find solutions where we are seeing increases. But certainly, I think it is in a stronger position than that maybe six months ago."
Speaking on COVID, Whitmer did not say anything about new restrictions to mitigate spread. However, she said hospitals and staff are at their breaking point.
"Right now, when you see who's filling up our hospital beds, it is the unvaccinated," said Whitmer. "And if I sound frustrated, it's because I am frustrated. I feel terrible for our hospital staff, who is working so hard when people are choosing not to get vaccinated, and then adding to the burden that is already so heavy. So, we're encouraging people to get vaccinated."
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