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Gov. Whitmer talks about police strategies, racism and funding priorities amid COVID-19

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke with Political Reporter Mikenzie Frost Wednesday, June 10 about law enforcement changes, funding change and COVID-19. (WWMT)

Much of the national conversation has been centered around law enforcement, police brutality and the issues surrounding reforming the way police departments operate.

When it comes to defunding police and reforming the way law enforcement manages communities, there are differences. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she does not support defunding police, but she would like to evaluate and change the way officers interact in communities.

“I don’t support defunding the police. What I do support though is the real investment in communities to re-build communities to create opportunity,” Whitmer said. “That’s part of the movement that is happening and I know people are just highlighting the phrase 'defunding police,' but the fact of the matter is, this movement is really about making sure that every American, no matter who they are, is safe, protected, respected and has opportunity under the law.”

To rearrange priorities though, takes funding. Michigan’s budget is already facing a $6.2 billion shortfall for the rest of this year and next year combined. Whitmer has repeatedly called on Congress to help states with funding and give them flexibility to use those federal resources where states need it most.

“It would be the worst insult on top of injury if we as states had to make decisions that balance budgets by cutting things like public education and public safety and public health. Yet, those are the biggest parts of our budgets,” Whitmer said. “So, unless the Trump Administration and Congress gets that fourth supplemental done, that’s the precarious position that Michigan and every other state in the nation are in right now.”

Revenue restrictions aside, lawmakers are bound by law – that they implemented in 2019 – to get a budget proposal to the governor by July 1, 2020. The deadline for a new budget to be in place is 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30, otherwise the state faces a partial shutdown.

“Obviously we had hoped to have budgets done by July 1, that’s not going to be case,” Whitmer said.

“We know that having pushed our tax collections back to help people during this time was important and the right thing to do. We know that school districts’ calendars are coming to a close and they won’t know what they are working with,” she added. “We went through that last year, we were hoping to avoid it this year, but no one could have anticipated we would be in the midst of a global pandemic that has been exacerbated by flooding and the national conversation around race right now.”

When asked for the date she would like to see the Legislature get her a budget plan if it wouldn’t be done by July 1, she said she’s planning on working with legislative leaders to work out a path forward. She said it’s important for people to put politics aside right now, pushing for some of her budget priorities, like education and funding for people on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ensuring that our heroes that stayed on the front lines to keep us safe are supported; whether it’s public health or public safety, that’s something that’s really important, too,” she said.

As the COVID-19 curve begins to flatten and more restrictions are lifted in Michigan, the governor applauded her stay-at-home order that was challenged in court and faced loud criticism from people who claimed it was too restrictive and too long.

As of Wednesday, June 10, the state reported 171 new COVID-19 cases and 13 COVID-19 related deaths. The new numbers put the total amount of cases at 59,278 and 5,711 deaths. As of June 5, 2020, 42,041 Michiganders have recovered from COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is still present, we cannot just drop our guard and think that life as resumed even though it’s starting to feel more normal every couple of weeks,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got to keep our guard up, keep wearing our masks and we’re going to get through this.”

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On June 15, hair and nail salons will be allowed to re-open statewide. The Upper Peninsula and parts of the northern Lower Peninsula are in Phase 5 of the MI Safe Start Plan, meaning bars, restaurants, retail, theaters and other places once shuttered, can welcome back customers.

Whitmer said she sees the rest of the state moving to Phase 5 in the next week or two, as long as the COVID-19 trends continue down. With more and more protests happening in Michigan – and nationwide – Whitmer said it’s important for people not to get too relaxed and continue practicing the same new normal tasks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I think when you look at a national map, what we’ve accomplished here in Michigan is remarkable. There’s no question that the stay-at-home order saved lives, but the order itself doesn’t do it, it’s the fact that the people of our state have taken this seriously,” Whitmer said.

“They’ve done their part, wearing their masks, have stayed home unless it was absolutely necessary, have been washing their hands and taking care of themselves and one another. We’ve pushed this curve down and saved thousands of lives,” she added. “We’ll never know those of us who were saved because of this but we know thousands of us are here now because of the actions we’ve taken.”

Follow Political Reporter Mikenzie Frost on Twitter and Facebook. Send tips to mbfrost@sbgtv.com.