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Gov. Whitmer must sprint toward cooperation

We recently came upon the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 cases being reported in Michigan and the start of many executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in response. It’s important to reflect given the milestone.

Lives and livelihoods have been significantly impacted in our state the past year. Nearly 17,000 people in Michigan have died from COVID-19. These are friends and relatives people will not get back as our society begins to operate in pre-pandemic fashion once again. Millions of people have been put out of work through no fault of their own through the governor’s orders. The burdensome shutdowns have taken away their ability to make a living for prolonged periods – causing many small businesses that are vital to our state and local economies to close for good.

After all we have been through, it is disappointing the governor still refuses to work with the Legislature to get people throughout the state and the Upper Peninsula with relief they need during this unprecedented time.

The governor recently slashed nearly $1.5 billion from a plan approved by the Legislature, including over $800 million in school funding and over $400 million which would go directly to helping job providers. Many Democrats in the Michigan House who originally supported the proposal the first time were not supportive of efforts to override the vetoes – which caused them to fail without a two-thirds majority. It was outrageous that in a little under a week, those select few thought staying on the governor’s good side was more important than helping hard-working people and families in their communities.

It also shows the kind of power the governor has gone out of her way to take on during this emergency. Until a Michigan Supreme Court decision limited her ability to extend emergency declarations, Gov. Whitmer did so unilaterally without any input from representatives of people throughout the state. Even after the Supreme Court decision, her administration issued several health directives through the Department of Health and Human Services that largely mirrored original executive orders.

This unilateral decision-making led to tens of thousands of people waiting for weeks and months for their unemployment claims to be fulfilled. The state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency was overwhelmed and underprepared to handle a massive surge in claims from a shutdown. The governor going it alone on this decision kept many people from being able to pay bills or put food on the table for their families while out of work and while on hold with the agency.

This unilateral decision-making also led to a nursing home policy that went against science and data available on COVID-19 at the time it was crafted. It put patients who had been infected with COVID-19 under the same roof as healthy residents – among older populations that were at increased risk of infection and death. The unilateral decisions also impacted our children by keeping them out of classrooms where they can learn and develop. It put some of the most stringent restrictions in the country on our restaurants and bars – a massive industry that employs nearly 450,000 people statewide.

Instead of explaining these decisions to people who are being impacted by them, Gov. Whitmer has gone the other way – forging hush money agreements with departing administration officials using taxpayer money. Transparency should be a fundamental component of government even in times of emergency, but Gov. Whitmer does not seem remotely committed to such a principle.

People lose when they don’t have a government that is accountable to them. I hope Gov. Whitmer understands the importance of this concept in the coming year as we get closer to putting COVID-19 and policies in response behind us.

State Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Powell and Ishpeming townships in Marquette County.

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