Gilda Jacobs has watched her share of State of the State addresses, having spent a total of 12 years in both chambers of the Legislature.
The now president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy wrote a column for the Advance last month about serving alongside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in both the House and the Senate.
The Advance talked with Jacobs Tuesday night about Whitmer’s first address:
Michigan Advance: How would you compare last night’s speech with [those during] the eight years of former Gov. Rick Snyder?
Jacobs: I think the governor [Whitmer] had a pretty pragmatic approach to what’s going on. I think she didn’t get into a blame game necessarily. But I think she was very honest that we’ve really got some problems in this state that we need to tackle.
I think the narrative for a long time in the state is that we’ve had this great economic upturn, everything is great, people are working … that picture that has been painted for the last number of years. The fact is she really did zero in on some major obstacles that are really keeping the state from moving forward and being a true economic engine. She talked about infrastructure; she talked about the fact that our kids are failing. Those are important things.
Michigan Advance: Whitmer talked a fair bit about ‘low morale’ and outdated technology in state government. How important do you believe those issues are?
Jacobs: Honestly, I think that’s really important. We’ve seen the chipping away of investment into personnel and into IT [information technology]. There’s been a history of early retirements. People that have had the historic knowledge, the ability to really know what’s happening in their departments — they’ve left. When you combine that with term limits and staffers who haven’t been around a long time, you really lose that rich knowledge.
… I don’t think residents think about that, what’s really going on in those departments and the pressure those workers have. We might see it professionally [where you’re] having a hard time getting data out of [some] department. It’s not that people don’t want to give our organization the data. They may not necessarily have the resources and the tools or the people power to do that.
Michigan Advance: Solving some of these big problems will require bipartisan effort and GOP legislative leaders are already aiming to halt some of Whitmer’s priorities. How do you see this playing out?
Jacobs: I think where the partisan problems come in is where the philosophical differences are between the two parties. How are you going to fix those problems? Whether it’s talking about taxes, talking about responsibilities. Who’s responsible for that?
The devolvement of government, the thinking by some people in the Legislature that if we don’t take care of these things, then the foundations will — or the nonprofit world will take care of it. [laughs] None of which has happened, though. The bandwidth of all of the nonprofits and the foundations and the faith groups, that bandwidth is not large enough to pick the pieces where government may have failed.
Michigan Advance: Your organization has been vocally opposed to GOP efforts to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Do you believe that will be halted?
Jacobs: There was just a report put out by Mannat. It was pretty scary to hear what the possibilities they were talking about. They feel that 60,000 to 180,00 people in Michigan who are currently on Healthy Michigan [Medicaid] could lose their health care. Even at the minimum of 60,000, that is outrageous. That’s terrible.
My hope is that [Senate Majority Leader Mike] Shirkey — and I know this is such an important signature issue for him, because this was his legislation that he sponsored — that he sees there are inherent, major flaws in what they passed.
As a state, we can’t afford to have that many people going off Medicaid. If people are unhealthy, they’re not going to be able to work. It’s something that is so frightening to me from a policy standpoint. My hope is that Sen. Shirkey takes a look at the negative impacts.