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‘We show up and we listen’

Lt. Governor looks ahead to coming term

LANSING — After an election that saw the reelection of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other top Democrats to statewide office, as well as unified Democratic control of the state legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is excited about the coming term.

“The voters of Michigan sent a pretty clear message that the way we’re leading our state” — a focus on problem-solving and areas including infrastructure, access to child care and economic development — “is what they want to see moving forward,” he said.

For the coming term, Gilchrist said the administration would continue to make education a priority. The state approved a record $19.6 billion K-12 education budget last year, with districts receiving $9,150 per pupil.

Gilchrist said a goal was to take a step further to match students with individualized support. Last year, Whitmer proposed using $280 million of the state’s $3 billion budget surplus for MI Kids Back on Track, a proposal that would fund tutoring and other forms of individualized instruction.

“We need to invest more, not less, and do it in a more targeted way,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist also said the state will continue its progress on infrastructure, noting that more than 16,000 lane miles of road and 1,200 bridges had been fixed, repaired or replaced during Whitmer’s first four years without tax increases.

Early in her first term, Whitmer proposed a 45-cent gas tax that she estimated would generate $2 billion annually to fund road improvements. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, she said she did not plan to revisit that proposal despite Democratic majorities. An alternate plan is needed because of the growing electric vehicle market, she said.

That new funding package for road improvements hasn’t been determined yet, Gilchrist said. But he said additional resources are needed to make sure roads and bridges can continue to be “drivers of economic opportunity rather than things that take money out of people’s pockets.”

“They’re things that ambulances and school buses can drive over, and it’s going to keep our state moving forward,” he said.

Other than roads, the most important infrastructure improvements will come in the form of high-speed internet, Gilchrist said. In June, Whitmer signed an executive order creating the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office. Its plan is to connect every Michigan household to high-speed internet over the next four years.

“That’s going to be a game changer” for rural areas, he said, creating opportunities in areas like small business growth and telehealth.

That office is working closely with the state’s new Office of Rural Development, which Whitmer created within the state’s Department of Rural Development in January.

The new office is focused on the strategic needs of rural Michigan, including economic and workforce development, infrastructure, public health and environmental sustainability.

Projects have included helping rural farmers get higher yields, as well as road and water infrastructure improvements. It is also helping the state put a shoulder into growing the outdoor economy, Gilchrist said.

That has included $20 million for improvements to the Copper Peak ski jump in Ironwood, which had been out of commission since 1994. It has also meant support for small businesses providing supplies for outdoor activities, such as snowmobiling and snowshoeing.

“We just want to support the businesses and the entrepreneurs, but also let people know Michigan is a place to enjoy the great outdoors and the outdoor resources we fought so hard to protect,” he said.

Asked about the administration’s process for staying in touch with the Upper Peninsula, Gilchrist said “the process is showing up.” He most recently visited the Upper Peninsula in October, and said he plans to return shortly.

“We show up and we listen, so we hear what the priorities are that we need to focus on,” he said.

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