Whitmer to deliver State of the State buoyed by news of massive GM investments

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will deliver her fourth State of the State address Wednesday from a metro Detroit manufacturing site, buoyed by Tuesday's announcement of $7 billion in promised GM investments in Michigan, but still grappling with a pandemic that shows no sign of ending.

Like GM's new manufacturing plans, the site for Whitmer's speech — to be announced Wednesday — will be emblematic of the anticipated shift of much of Michigan's economy to producing electric vehicles and batteries from cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

But there will be almost no live audience to watch Whitmer deliver the speech from that site — only a few staff members and a TV crew — because for the second straight year, Whitmer's State of the State will be delivered remotely. Normally, Michigan governors deliver the annual speech from a podium inside a state House chamber filled with lawmakers, dignitaries, and invited guests.

"I was hopeful that we could do it in person at the Capitol and return to the tradition," Whitmer said. But it just did not make sense, given the high COVID-19 case numbers, especially when lawmakers recently had to cancel state House sessions because of due to high exposure among legislators and staff.

Whitmer said to expect a relatively brief and straightforward speech with no major news beyond her election-year call to repeal Michigan's tax on pension income, first reported by the Free Press, and her request to triple the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers, first reported by the Associated Press.

Whitmer is to announce plans for the state's 2023 budget separately, in early February.

Though most of the billions in surplus funds in state coffers are "one-time funds" that should not be used for ongoing programs, State Budget Director Christopher Harkins has said the treasury also has about $600 million or more in new annual revenues resulting from economic growth that can be spent on ongoing programs or tax relief.

More: GM to invest historic $7 billion in 4 facilities across Michigan, creating 4,000 jobs

More: Whitmer to call for repeal of Michigan pension tax in State of the State address

"The brunt of inflation, the brunt of the pandemic, means it is even more critical for us to find savings for individuals, and — we've shifted so much burden onto hardworking people in this state — it's time to give them a break," she said.

The governor sees no silver bullet to end the pandemic. She and her administration have eschewed mandates for pleas in recent months, and that will not change any time soon. Whitmer said the state's best role in fighting the virus is calling on residents to vaccinate, mask up and practice other safety measures.

“I think we're learning how to live with this. We're learning how to use the tools, we’re continuing to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated so they can stay in class and not have this incredible disruption last longer than it already has," Whitmer said.

“So (during the State of the State) I'm not going to predict what the future looks like. I'm simply going to acknowledge how difficult it's been, encourage people to make use of the tools that we have to stay safe and to stay focused on the fundamentals. Whether you’re living in a pandemic or not, we've got to sharpen our skills so people can get a good paying job. We've got to make sure that we have the infrastructure to support our economy and our people."

The pandemic continues to hurt pocketbooks and parents, she acknowledged. It's incumbent on the government to try and help make life a little easier during difficult times, something she says her administration has done: She plans to highlight the bipartisan effort to repeal sales and use taxes on feminine hygiene products, and said she met with legislative leaders Tuesday to discuss finding new ways to ensure more schools can keep in-person classes.

"We've got to ensure that our kids are getting the education that they need and that's going to continue to center our work, acknowledging where we are, in regard to the pandemic turning into an endemic," Whitmer said.

"We've got to continue to keep people safe, but also focus on the long-term future and we can't do one or the other; we have to do both.”

The speech is set to begin at 7 p.m. It will be broadcast live on public radio and TV stations and livestreamed on freep.com.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer's State of the State address gets boost from GM announcement

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