Whitmer at the 2019 Michigan Municipal League Capital Conference | Image via Flickr Whitmer at the 2019 Michigan Municipal League Capital Conference | Image via Flickr

In her second year, the Democrat promised to fix the state’s roads, protect the Affordable Care Act, and fight to enshrine protections for people with pre-existing conditions into state law.

When Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took to the podium in the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday night, she did not mince words. 

In her second State of the State speech, the Democrat called out the inaction of the Republican-led legislature and made clear she would do everything she could to solve Michigan’s biggest problems. Whitmer said her budget proposal last year represented her “Plan A” for Michigan, but after a year of Republican obstruction, she was ready to get to “Plan B.”

During her 40-minute speech, the governor promised to fix the state’s roads, protect the Affordable Care Act, and fight to enshrine protections for people with pre-existing conditions into state law.

Whitmer’s hyper focus on such bread and butter issues like health care may foreshadow her approach to another upcoming speech: the Democrats’ response to President Trump’s State of the Union Speech on Feb. 4. Poll after poll shows health care is the most important issue for voters across the country heading into the 2020 election—a race that could come down to Michigan. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan since 1988. Just two years later, Whitmer carried the state by nearly 10 points. 

On Wednesday, the governor showed the attitude and commitment that made her so appealing to voters in 2018. 

“I am not here to play games,” Whitmer said. “For those of you who want to keep playing games, I’m going to press on without you. I’m going to use the power of my office to do what I said I was going to do.” 

Here are the other highlights from Whitmer’s speech:

Health care

Eighteen Republican states are currently suing in federal court to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety, a result that Whitmer said would be “disastrous” for Michigan. 

Nearly 275,000 Michiganders rely on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for insurance, while another 675,000 beneficiaries receive coverage through Healthy Michigan, the state’s Medicaid expansion program made possible by the ACA. If the healthcare law is struck down, 720,000 Michiganders could lose their coverage, causing a 115% increase in the uninsured rate, according to a 2019 report from the Urban Institute.

Whitmer emphasized the importance of protecting the gains made under the ACA, including coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. She called on Republican lawmakers to support Democratic legislation that would codify protections for the 4.1 million Michiganders living with pre-existing conditions into law.

“I urge the lawmakers here tonight to think about your constituents. Think about any woman who has given birth, any child with asthma, or anyone with a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure,” Whitmer said. “Pass these protections. It’s the right thing to do.”S

She also highlighted her administration’s efforts to help people struggling with substance use disorders and mental health issues, and said her forthcoming budget proposal will extend health coverage for low-income women with babies in her budget proposal.

Bridge Magazine reported that Whitmer’s “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” plan would raise the annual income limit from 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent, which would allow a family of four to earn up to $39,300 and still qualify for the program. Previously, that same family could only earn $34,060 and still qualify.

Whitmer aims to improve care for these women as well. “We will extend postpartum care from 60 days to one full year after giving birth,” she said. 

She also wants to guarantee that new moms have their first postpartum visit within three weeks and receive a comprehensive visit within 12 weeks. 

In a moment that was particularly well-received, Whitmer announced that her plan would allow women to choose their own birth control, increase access to substance addiction and mental health services, and expand access to home visitation programs for new moms.  

“This will make a crucial difference for new moms and for the youngest Michiganders” she said. 

Roads

Forty-one percent of all federally funded roads in the state and 53 percent of state- and locally funded roads are in poor condition, according to Michigan’s 2018 Roads & Bridges Annual Report.

Whitmer tried to address the issue in 2019 with her state budget, which would have funded road repairs with a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the state’s gas tax, but Republicans opposed that measure.

On Wednesday, Whitmer announced she would bypass the Republican-led legislature and take executive action by asking the State Transportation Commission to issue $3.5 billion in state road bonds over five years to repair the worst of the state’s busiest roads and bridges.

She emphasized that repairing the state’s crumbling roads is not only a safety issue, but an economic one. “Michigan families pay more than $600 a year in car repairs,” Whitmer said, citing cracked windshields, blown tires, and busted rims. She also said that businesses were less likely to invest in the state if roads and bridges continued to fall into disrepair. 

The plan, which was quickly approved on Thursday, only funds 122 new and existing projects. Additionally, relying on bonds means the funding can only be used on highways and interstates instead of local roads.

Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox called Whitmer’s plan “taxation without representation.” In reality, the plan wouldn’t raise taxes at all; instead, it funds repairs via borrowing. 

Whitmer acknowledged her plan wasn’t going to be enough in the long run, but said it was on Republicans to come to the table to craft a real, long-term solution. “Next time you’re driving down your local street and hit a pothole or see a bridge closed—call up the Republican leaders in the legislature and encourage them to act,” Whitmer said. 

Education

Whitmer also announced that the state was “doubling down” on promises to invest in early literacy and to provide better access to childcare for working parents. Universal pre-K is another policy she hopes to make a reality for children in districts where test scores are low or poverty is high. 

The governor also announced partnerships with local organizations in Flint, Battle Creek, and other localities to help families deal with the state’s new “Third Grade Reading Laws,” which were signed into law by former Gov. Rick Snyder. The measures could force students to repeat third grade if their score on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) is one or more grade level behind the third-grade standards. 

Whitmer opposes the law, which could cause nearly 5,000 third-graders to be held back this year, though details of her efforts have yet to be revealed.

“This punitive law could be a nightmare for families, and this initiative will give parents and students the resources and support they need to get through it,” she said. “We can get ahead of this problem if we start early.”

Whitmer also called on lawmakers to pass the Michigan Reconnect legislation, which would provide tuition-free skills training and degree programs for adults. The program isn’t just intended to improve the education level of state residents, but rather to help them obtain better, more in-demand jobs, Whitmer said.