LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's first State of the State address Tuesday evening was lacking in substantive details, local legislators said.
“She hit some of the things we pretty much expected she would hit,‘ said Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City. Things like roads and education. "But there wasn't a whole lot of substance."
Rendon and Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, wanted to know how the state could pay for Whitmer's agenda.
"I was pleased overall with most of what Gov. Whitmer had to say but I was looking for some solutions to the obvious issues," Hoitenga told the Cadillac News via text message. "She continues to say we need to fix the roads but doesn't offer any way to pay for it. She also discussed free college with no realistic or practical mechanisms for making it happen."
Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, agreed that one of the big questions remaining after Whitmer's speech is how to pay for her proposals.
Local legislators did like some parts of Whitmer's speech.
VanderWall was looking forward to working with Whitmer on a plan to keep hundreds of thousands of Michiganders on the Healthy Michigan plan. Rendon liked that Whitmer stressed the importance of clean water and approved of Whitmer's plan to continue a PFAS task force.
Gov. Whitmer said there are two major crises Michigan must confront now — aging infrastructure and a lagging education system — or else it will become a tougher place to live, work and run a business.
The Democrat pointed to deteriorating roads, contaminated drinking water and the worst decline in childhood literacy among states measured every year since 2014.
Whitmer announced a goal of increasing the number of residents with a postsecondary credential — an industry certificate, associate degree or higher — to 60 percent by 2030, from 44 percent as of 2016.
She also proposed that the state provide graduating high schoolers two years of tuition-free education at a community college — with no means testing — or a two-year maximum $2,500 annual scholarship to those attending a four-year college or university. The latter would only qualify with a minimum 3.0 GPA and a household income under $80,000. Adults 25 and older also could receive financial support.
"It will make Michigan the first Midwestern state to guarantee community college for all," Whitmer said during a 55-minute televised speech before the Republican-led Legislature.
She focused on the state of K-12 education, as well, saying Michigan had the worst decline in childhood literacy among states measured every year since 2014.
"Let's be clear: This is not happening because Michigan kids are less talented," she said. "It's not happening because our kids are less motivated. It's not happening because our educators are less dedicated. It is happening because generations of leadership have failed them."
The education crisis, Whitmer said, hurts companies that cannot fill their jobs with in-state workers who have the proper training. She said the vast majority of jobs require some form of postsecondary education, whether it's a degree or a skills certification. But only 44 percent of the workforce has such a credential.
"Simply put, that's not good enough for Michigan to compete," Whitmer said.
While VanderWall said he was disappointed not to hear more about K-12 funding and early childhood development, he was encouraged by Whitmer's support for skilled trades training, he said.
Local legislators brought educators as guests to the State of the State address. VanderWall invited Dave Cox, superintendent of the Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District, and Leonard Morrow, superintendent of Manton schools. Hoitenga invited Steve Locke, superintendent of the Osceola-Mecosta ISD.
Legislators said they expected to hear more detailed information about paying for Whitmer's agenda in March, when the new governor is expected to share her budget proposal.
Of the roads, Whitmer said just 18 percent are in "good" condition.
"We need to act now, before a catastrophe strikes or the situation becomes truly unrecoverable," she said.
A state commission has said Michigan lags nearby states and the country in infrastructure spending and needs $4 billion more annually, including $2.2 billion for roads and bridges.
Whitmer indicated that she welcomed suggestions from legislators to reduce Michigan's car insurance rates.
VanderWall, Hoitenga and Rendon have all previously cited auto insurance reform as a top legislative priority.
VanderWall agreed with Whitmer that long-term solutions are necessary, he said.
Rendon, who is on an auto insurance reform committee in the state House of Representatives, said the committee met for the first time last week and will meet again this week.
“We’re in the listening phase,‘ Rendon said.