In the absence of a traditional joint House and Senate session, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her third State of the State Address virtually from her Capitol building office.
Declaring that “the state of our state is resilient,” Whitmer outlined her 2021 agenda focused on Michigan’s pandemic response, economic revitalization and infrastructure, and calling on legislators for more bipartisan solutions.
“There’s been a lot of challenges from a bipartisan standpoint — and that happens,” said Rob Anderson, Michigan Farm Bureau’s state government relations lead. “It’s good to hear that’s a focus the governor has, and we know that the Legislature at times has been frustrated they haven’t had more input into the conversation.
“We’re hopeful they can strike a balance … that’s certainly the sign of good government and good leaders working together to find solutions. You can be sure that we’re going to engage the Legislature and the administration on how our Farm Bureau members envision moving forward and how we can play a role in that.”
Foreshadowing items she’ll likely include in her executive budget presentation to the Legislature in the coming weeks, Whitmer detailed her proposed Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, which includes a Michigan Back to Work Plan.
“We will leverage all of the resources of state government to rebuild our economy back better,” Whitmer said. “Working with leaders in state and federal government, business, and beyond to grow good-paying Michigan jobs.
“Over the next year, we will announce initiatives and projects big and small — from tech, mobility and manufacturing growth, to clean energy and road construction. This will protect, grow, and create more good paying jobs.”
She also called on the Legislature to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks.
And while there was no mention of farmers or the agriculture sector within the address itself, the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan fact sheet outlines the creation of an Office of Rural Development tasked with, “coordinating work across state government to address issues facing rural communities — including broadband, talent, infrastructure, and more.”
Through the new office, Whitmer intends to offer grants to provide infrastructure and capacity support in rural communities and support for land-based industries.
And on the topic of infrastructure, the governor revisited her signature phrase, “fix the damn roads.”
“Even combatting COVID, we moved a lot of dirt,” Whitmer said and then listed several completed construction projects she linked to her Rebuilding Michigan bonding plan launched last year.
“As for your local roads and bridges, last session, legislation was introduced to give local communities more options so they can move some dirt too. It’s a good idea — and it’s time for the legislature to get it done.”
On that topic, Anderson said county Farm Bureau members are ready to engage in the local road funding conversation.
“As we always remind our legislative leaders, any journey to a destination begins and ends on a local road,” he added.
“Our members have developed thoughts and ideas on how we do that and we’re ready to engage. For farms, that’s where a lot of the activity needs to happen getting to and from fields and markets on rural roads and bridges.”
Sharing the state’s goals for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Whitmer said the number of vaccines administered has surpassed the number of recorded cases in Michigan.
“The good news is that we do have a plan to get 50,000 shots in arms per day when the supply comes in,” Whitmer said.
She added, “I just ask for patience as our frontline workers work around the clock to get shots in arms. Our medical objective is to vaccinate at least 70% of our population age 16 and up as soon as possible.”
Anderson explained that Farm Bureau is eager to step up and help promote vaccine participation because, “Our members have made it very clear they’re ready to get beyond this and address the other economic challenges they’re dealing with.”
Related: COVID-19 vaccinations for food and ag workers to begin in May
Rounding out the half-hour long address, Whitmer said she’ll be launching the Fixing the Damn Road Ahead tour to “engage with and listen to Michiganders — young and old, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and everywhere in between. To focus on what unites us, improve how we talk to each other, and together we’ll fix the damn road ahead. My mission is to find common ground so we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”
A recording of the State of the State, full transcript and fact sheets on the initiatives Whitmer discussed is available online.