Sept. 16, 2022 | This Week in Government: Biden Talks Middle Class, Investing in U.S. During Auto ShowSeptember 16, 2022
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
Biden Talks Middle Class, Investing in U.S. During Auto Show
President Joe Biden stopped in Detroit for the 2022 North American International Auto Show on Wednesday to rally for Michigan Democrats one month after the Inflation Reduction Act was passed, saying the recently enacted policies are investments into building a better America.
Prior to Biden’s appearance, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) gave remarks. Whitmer was not in Michigan when Biden first visited the state to announce the new investment in electric vehicles but was present for his visit Wednesday.
Whitmer during her speech called the state “tough,” mentioning the four balanced bipartisan budgets she’s signed and the nearly $14 billion of debt paid down as well as bringing the rainy-day fund to $1.6 billion.
“We are practical, and we are competitive,” Whitmer said. “In the last year alone, we have secured investments to build the future of mobility and electrification here in the great state of Michigan, maintaining our automotive edge. A $7 billion investment, the largest in GM history, building batteries in the state of Michigan. A $3.2 billion investment from Ford, adding 3,200 jobs across Southeast Michigan in advanced mobility.”
She highlighted a number of other investments, including the $1.7 billion from LG Energy Solution for building batteries and the 1,200 jobs as well as investments for semiconductors.
“And Mr. President, I know he’s listening, we are not done yet,” Whitmer said. “We’re just warmed up.”
A photo was taken of Biden and Whitmer holding hands as they walked into the auto show, which Republicans on Twitter immediately jumped on to point out their perceived oddity of the situation.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon retweeted an image from a CBS news reporter of the two, saying, “holding hands as they drive our state off a cliff.”
Biden thanked Whitmer and Dingell for inviting him to the auto show, saying “I’m a car guy.”
Biden recalled how he moved to Delaware when he was in the third grade, saying “the UAW brought me to the dance.”
“I’m here because the auto show, the vehicles here, give me so many reasons to be optimistic about the future,” Biden said. “For most of the last century, we lead the world by a significant margin and because we invested in our people, we invested in ourselves and something went wrong along the way here.”
He said the U.S. risks losing the edge as a nation as China and the rest of the world are catching up.
“We used to invest almost 2% of our entire GDP in research and development. Now it’s 0.7% and the rest of the world is catching, but not anymore,” Biden said. “Now we’re choosing to build a better America, an America that’s confronting the climate crisis, with America’s workers leading the way. We’re rebuilding the economy, a clean energy economy.”
Biden said they would do so by building from the bottom up and the middle out, saying he is “so tired of trickle down, I can’t stand it.”
Don’t forget the middle-class built America and the unions build the middle-class, he said.
Biden said the Inflation Reduction Act gives tax credits for those to buy an electric vehicle and residents can also get a tax credit if they buy a used electric vehicle.
“Today, I’m pleased to announce we’re approving funding for the first 35 states including Michigan to build their own electric charging infrastructure throughout the state,” Biden said. “And you’re going to be a part of a network of 500,000 charging stations.”
The fast-paced shift to electric vehicles has raised disapproval from Republicans. U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) and attorney Paul Junge, all Republicans campaigning for the 1st, 7th and 8th U.S. House Districts, respectfully, hosted a Zoom call early Wednesday morning ahead of Biden’s visit. The three Republicans discussed the “failures of the Biden administration,” highlighting the still very high gas and grocery prices.
They also agreed that no one is against clean energy, but Barrett called out how California told automakers to stop selling gas-powered cars by 2030 and then a few weeks later told Californian residents to not charge their cars for fear of the electrical grid shutting down during the heatwave.
Bergman said he was in Washington, D.C., wondering why Biden was going to Michigan to “tout a plan that really is not working.”
“It’s basically a plan crushing our families, increasing costs, stifling small business and just basically taking more money out of people’s pockets,” Bergman said. “Six-hundred ninety-three dollars. That’s what the average Michigan family is paying additionally, every single month because of inflation.”
He called out U.S. House Democrats and Biden for “believing they can just continue to tax and spend their way out of a recession.”
“That’s just not how good financial responsibility works,” Bergman said.
Both Bergman and Barrett called out the recent addition of 87,000 Internal Revenue Service agents, with Bergman saying these agents would come after Americans to seek more money from their pockets. Barrett said that is more than how many individuals can fit into Spartan Stadium on a sold-out Saturday.
“America’s on the wrong track under Joe Biden’s leadership and every single one of these Democrats have been a direct enabler to the Biden administration, the failures that they’ve had,” Barrett said. “My opponent has a 100% voting record with Joe Biden. One hundred percent. That’s a direct enabling of each of these policy failures that have led us into the position that we’re in right now.”
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) were not present at the press conference with Biden.
Junge called out his opponent, Kildee, saying he has heard from an employer in Saginaw County who told Junge he is giving an extra stipend to his employees because they can’t fill up their gas tanks to get to work.
“These aren’t just numbers,” Junge said. “These are real people in Michigan’s 8th District. The Democrats are not answering their problems.”
Barrett asked those on the press call today why Slotkin and Kildee were not hosting the president in their districts.
“They have a 100% voting record with Joe Biden. Shouldn’t they welcome him to their districts and stand beside him?” Barrett said.
While neither Kildee or Slotkin were in attendance Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township), U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Township), U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) joined the president during his visit.
Whitmer Announces MI Future Mobility Plan
A plan billed as a comprehensive strategy for addressing future mobility challenges and opportunities was announced Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Called the MI Future Mobility Plan, the strategy is intended to grow the state’s future mobility workforce and develop mobility policies. It also is intended to help create increased accessibility to transportation infrastructure.
Whitmer said in a statement on Thursday that Michigan has led the automobile industry in the past, and this plan will provide what is needed to remain a global leader in a rapidly evolving sector.
“The MI Future Mobility Plan presents a unified approach and strategy to grow Michigan’s economy, invest in our workforce, and empower communities across the state through responsive policy and programming that prepares us for the future,” Ms. Whitmer said. “It includes several goals for us to work towards and brings together partners across state government to get it done. We have the momentum, and this plan will help us keep moving forward.”
The plan has three pillars with a set of goals to advance the state in the area of future mobility.
The first pillar is to transition and grow the mobility workforce and industry.
The first goal is to create 20,000 new jobs in the industry by 2026. The next goal is to increase the number of workers with mobility credentials by 7,000 by 2030 while also focusing on workforce diversity. The third goal in this area is to ensure the automotive and parts manufacturing sector supports at least 170,000 jobs through 2030.
The second pillar is to create safer and greener transportation infrastructure.
Under this pillar, the first goal is to have 100,000 electric vehicle chargers in place by 2030 to support 2 million electric vehicles. A second goal is to work toward having at least 80 percent of EV charging take place during non-peak hours to not overextend the electric grid.
Other goals under the second pillar are to reduce traffic congestion and the number of crashes statewide by 2026 and to provide residents with access to mobility-as-a-service options within each of the state’s local transit agencies by 2025. The plan did not name any specific targets for reductions in congestion and crashes.
Becoming a world leader in mobility, electrification policy, and innovation is the focus of the third pillar.
Rising to the top in state rankings for mobility as well as electrification research and development is the first goal under the third pillar. Another goal is to become the national leader for electric and automated vehicle friendliness through response policies. Timelines or dates to meet these goals were not mentioned.
A further goal is to reach the Top 10 nationally for growth in venture capital funding by 2026. The state also aims to be in the Top 10 for federal funding for spending related to mobility, and vehicle electrification is another goal.
The plan announced Thursday was developed by the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification along with its Council on Future Mobility and Electrification. Several state departments and agencies also participated in crafting the plan.
“As the mobility industry continues to grow and evolve, we are laser-focused on leveraging our state’s talented workforce, ecosystem and available business resources to make Michigan a place where multi-modal mobility solutions are born, and companies can find long-term success and support,” Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, said in a statement.
Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives with the Detroit Regional Chamber, called the plan a positive step for the state in a statement.
“The honest assessment of the industry’s strengths and areas of opportunity paired with direct action items will bolster the state’s competitiveness through the industry’s ongoing evolution,” Stevens said.
$105M Grant Will Transform I-375, Address Historic Wrongs
Interstate 375 in Detroit has a plagued history that cannot be changed now, officials said Thursday in announcing a $105 million grant set to transform the freeway.
Michigan was awarded the funds to modernize I-375 through a competitive federal grant process. The project will replace the outdated freeway with an accessible boulevard, which officials said will spur economic development and link adjacent areas of Detroit.
The transformation will work to undo the harm done nearly 60 years ago when I-375 was built through two prosperous Black communities, Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. More than 130,000 Michigan residents and hundreds of businesses were displaced.
When the freeway opened in 1964, it created a barrier between Detroit’s central business district and the neighborhoods to the east. The result was decades of underinvestment and a lack of opportunities for the predominantly Black communities on the other side of the freeway.
“While we cannot change the past, we can work together to build a more just future, and that’s exactly what today’s grant empowers us to do,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday. “We fought hard to secure this funding to create a corridor of economic opportunity in Detroit and build on the city’s growing economic momentum.”
The new street-level boulevard will begin south of the I-75 interchange and continue to Atwater Street. It will align with the city’s existing grid pattern to ensure a smooth flow of traffic and allow for additional connections to the riverfront, Eastern Market and Brush Park. Most of the boulevard will have six lanes of traffic, not counting turn lanes, but will reduce to four lanes between Jefferson Avenue and Atwater Street.
In addition to new lanes for cars, the east side of the boulevard will have a two-way biking path. The path will connect the riverfront to the Montcalm Street extension and will go as far west and Brush Street and as far east as Gratiot Avenue. There, it will connect with the Dequindre Cut bike path.
In total, the project will cost $270 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2025 and finish in 2028. The federal grant moved the timeline for the project up by two years.
“Today’s announcement is about Detroit’s future,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said in a statement. “The I-375 revitalization project will reconnect neighborhoods on both sides of the freeway and move us toward righting a past injustice. It also creates a new platform to grow our economy, creates opportunities for local entrepreneurs, and boosts accessibility for all Detroiters. It’s the latest sign – from the NFL Draft and the Joe Louis Greenway to Michigan Central Station – that Detroit is on the move. Gov. Whitmer and I will continue standing tall with Detroiters to accelerate our economy, create jobs, and build prosperity in Detroit.”
There are several other freeways like I-375. In Detroit, M-10 and I-94 paved through what were Black neighborhoods, and in Lansing, I-496 did the same. In a statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he’s seen several examples of this across the country and that he hoped the I-375 project will go toward restoring what was destroyed.
“This stretch of I-375 cuts like a gash through the neighborhood, one of the many examples I have seen in communities across the country where a piece of infrastructure has become a barrier,” Buttigieg said. “With these funds, we’re now partnering with the state and the community to transform it into a road that will connect rather than divide.”
The Department of Transportation has been working on a plan to modernize the freeway for more than a decade.
Research started in 2014 with a Planning and Environmental Linkage study to identify and evaluate alternatives for the corridor that would meet transportation needs in a cost-effective manner and improve connectivity. The study found the transformation from a freeway to a boulevard was feasible, which led to an Environmental Assessment study to document human and natural impacts associated with any proposed improvements.
After research and community outreach, a preferred alternative was developed and presented during a public hearing in January 2021. Earlier this year, Whitmer announced the project was cleared to move forward after the Department of Transportation concluded its environmental review process.
“I cannot thank Sec. Buttigieg and USDOT enough for recognizing the value this project will bring the community,” said Paul Ajegba, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, in a statement. “For several years, my team has been working hard to reinvent this corridor with the goal of acknowledging mistakes of the past, reconnecting neighborhoods and spurring economic growth.”
The community will continue to be part of the project as it moves forward.
As part of the plan, the Michigan Department of Transportation added measures to acknowledge the impacts on residents and business owners in the former Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods. The community will be able to provide input that can be incorporated into the final design through a community-based local advisory committee. That committee will also be given authority to prepare and implement a community enhancement plan, land use framework plan, and aesthetic design guidelines. The value of the excess property also will be used to fund community priorities identified during outreach efforts.
Leaders in Detroit praised the project and what it will do to reconnect the city.
“I’m ready to fill in the ditch called I-375 and make it a beautiful, bustling boulevard, connecting the city of Detroit,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “We all know the painful history of I-375, and the city’s planning staff is having ongoing conversations with the community on how we’re going to transform I-375 together. Today’s announcement means we’re going to be able to speed this project up from 2027 to 2025, thanks to the city, state and federal government all working together. Let’s fill in the ditch and re-knit this community.”
Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) acknowledged the symbolism of the repair work in a statement on Wednesday.
“Dismantling this interstate is not only symbolic of breaking down the racial barriers that have divided this country – but will allow us to reconnect what the past divided. By moving these physically constructed barriers, this project is one of many movements required in this country to diminish the harmful decisions made to marginalize Black communities,” he said. “This project does what is right by fixing the past wrongs that sought to divide our communities. This grant gives new opportunities to reconnect, come together and build closer communities here in Detroit.”
Administration Seeking $141M Book-Closing Supplemental
The administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has submitted a request for a $141 million supplemental to the Legislature to help close the books on the soon to end 2021-22 fiscal year in hopes it will act this month before some remaining federal coronavirus relief money expires.
Most of the supplemental involves the last remaining funds from the Trump-era CARES Act for coronavirus relief with $105.2 million in those funds. Budget Director Chris Harkins said it took time to work with the federal government on where those funds could be used.
Under the proposed supplemental, $57 million of those funds would go to the Department of Corrections. In return, $57 million in General Fund would be moved from Corrections to the Department of State Police.
State Police would then receive the remaining $48.2 million in CARES Act funds as well to cover eligible public health and public safety payroll costs in the department. There is some time pressure with the $105.2 million in CARES Act funds. They must be finalized by Sept. 30 and for expenditures incurred prior to December 30, 2021.
Otherwise, the supplemental has a $2.8 million reappropriation for technical purposes involving Flint lead service line replacement, $26.6 million in federal funds to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity for administrative costs for the Unemployment Insurance Agency, $3.4 million General Fund to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans to close a shortfall from operational costs and fewer residents and $2.3 million General Fund to stabilize a dam in Baraga County.
“There’s not a lot that’s sexy here. It’s really just a fund-sourcing swap to ensure that we use all of the CARES Act money available to the state and in doing so we’re swapping out some General Fund for CARES Act,” Harkins said. “We’re hopeful that we’d be able to get that through even this month.”
The House and Senate, which have not held a voting session since the end of June, are schedule to return for votes Sept. 21 and 28.
The administration would have preferred to get the supplemental requests to the Legislature sooner (they were transmitted last Wednesday) but it had notified the Legislature of the work on the topic, Harkins said.
“It’s important that we try to get these through so we can take advantage of these federal dollars without having them lapse back to the feds otherwise,” Harkins said. “We sent that over in the hopes that if the Legislature is going to engage in a supplemental in September that we can take care of this as well and make sure we use those dollars while they’re available to us.”
This supplemental would not address about $1 billion in unspent American Rescue Plan funds nor about $6 billion more in state revenues still available.
“This is kind of like a book-closing, very technical kind of supplemental request,” Harkins said.
Senate Republican spokesperson Matt Sweeney said Senate Republicans “are always willing to listen, but I think there’s a growing frustration that the governor always seems to be focused on spending rather than sending money back to people.”
Asked about the Sept. 30 deadline on the CARES Act funds, Sweeney said the caucus is just beginning its review of the request.
A message left with a House Republican spokesperson late Tuesday was not immediately returned.
House Transportation Takes Up Airport Gun Ban Clarification
The House Transportation Committee met Tuesday to discuss a bill that would clearly ban guns in the airport, as well as other pieces of legislation that seek to clarify Michigan transportation laws.
The committee heard testimony on HB 6123, SB 640, SB 745, and HB 6369, but took no action on the bills.
“The reason I had today’s hearing for testimony was so that next week we can vote things out,” Committee Chair Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) said.
The first piece of legislation considered by the committee was HB 6123, which would clarify the state statue banning firearms from sterile areas in an airport.
A sterile area is any place in an airport after people have gone through security.
Michigan’s current statute that makes it illegal to carry a firearm past security references a federal law that has since been changed. That means Michigan’s law can’t be used to prosecute someone in case of an incident.
“That then rolls back into my role, once we have an arrest, I can do whatever I have to do to apply the proper statute because we have the correct definition for a sterile area,” Emmet County prosecutor James Linderman said. “Firearms are banned from a sterile area in an airport and that has not changed.”
The bill was introduced by Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs). The idea for the bill was brought to him by Linderman.
“It’s not changing anything other than fixing a technicality,” Damoose said.
In 2019, former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, Damoose’s predecessor in the 107th District, was fined $1,960 for carrying a loaded, unregistered gun through the Pellston Regional Airport in northern Michigan. He could not be criminally charged because of the state statue. Linderman was the prosecutor at the time.
Damoose said his reasons for sponsoring the legislation had nothing to do with Chatfield’s situation and that he was just responding to a need identified by a constituent.
“This purely came from our prosecutor,” he said. “It’s just a technical fix … this is how legislation should work.”
Officials from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Michigan Association of Airport Executives, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and the Detroit Regional Chamber all voiced support for the bill.
The committee also heard testimony on SB 640, sponsored by Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Onsted), which would provide an exemption for tow trucks servicing disabled vehicles during months when there are weight restrictions on Michigan roads.
Josh Clayton of H&H Towing testified in favor of the bill, saying that there have been times tow truck drivers were issued a citation for violating roadway restrictions while on the way to tow a disabled vehicle.
“This bill allows us to do our jobs and keep the roadway safe,” he said.
The committee also considered SB 745, which would grant port authorities more flexibility to make improvements at ports.
The bill would allow the port authority to finance port improvements including dredging ship channels, turning basins and filling and grading land related to those areas. The port authority would also be able to extend, enlarge, maintain or improve those projects.
“It updates and modernizes the definition of a port facility in important ways,” said Mark Schrupp, executive director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority. “It eliminates a laundry list of things that have become outdated. … It also importantly specifically references multimodal transport, which is good because it recognizes that ports are part of a transportation system that connects roads, rails and waterways. This will help our Michigan producers throughout the state access world markets and move their goods efficiently.”
The bill also grants the port authority the ability to issue revenue bonds on behalf of port facilities it doesn’t own.
“It’ll be a boost for the marine transport economy and allow our other terminals to compete,” Schrupp said.
The final bill the committee heard testimony for was HB 6369, which would extend the sunset on the law that prohibits local governments from imposing a local fee, registration, franchise or regulation on an on-demand automated motor vehicle network.
The current legislation is set to expire at the end of this year. HB 6369 would extend it until the end of 2027.
Katie Marshall, counsel for the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, spoke in favor of the legislation, saying it was important to avoid inconsistent local regulations.
“Avoiding such a patchwork will better enable AV operators to continue to invest in bringing the benefits of AVs to Michigan because consistent, state-level requirements provide AV operators with necessary clarity and certainty,” she said. “AVs can not only make our roads safer, but more accessible and efficient. … A framework that enables seamless, statewide operation is necessary to realize these benefits.”
Officials from General Motors; the Ford Motor Company; Waymo, an autonomous driving technology company; the Michigan Manufacturers Association and Toyota Motors North America all supported the extension.
Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) said that although he and other lawmakers are working on additional legislation, extending the sunset on the laws currently in place is needed.
“All of us want to ensure that Michigan remains a leader for autonomous vehicle testing in the future,” he said. “It’s going to be imperative that we do extend the sunset to ensure that Michigan stays as a leader in this space.”
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