Dec. 22, 2022 | This Week in Government: Messer Says Housing Stock Among Key Factors to Attract GrowthDecember 22, 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.
Messer: Housing Stock Among Key Factors to Attract Growth
Talent and site readiness have long been cited as two major factors in large companies such as Ford, Gotion, and others selecting Michigan for projects. In an interview, Michigan Economic Development Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Quentin Messer was asked if there was anything else Michigan could do to encourage companies to invest.
“You can always do something more,” he told Gongwer News Service, adding that the competitive utility rates and Consumers Energy and DTE Energy’s commitment to renewables is a huge plus.
Having housing stock available that talent wants to live and raise their families in is also a key factor in bringing big projects to the state.
Housing appears to be emerging as a big priority in 2023 for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the incoming Democratic-led Legislature.
“We work closely with the Michigan State Housing and Development Association, (it) has a statewide housing plan. So, we need to make sure that we remove one of the impediments particularly for some of our incumbent Michigan businesses,” he said. “So it’s really a holistic approach. It’s never just one or two things.”
Messer also pointed out that MEDC has two senior vice presidents focused on small business, saying MEDC really “accelerated” their work in small business. MEDC also has senior vice presidents focused on entrepreneurship and innovation.
MEDC stood up a talent solutions team to more nimbly engage with employers to make sure there are tailored and customized solutions for them, the MEDC executive said.
A major highlight of the previous year was the SOAR Fund – Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund – that focuses on bringing large investments to the state.
Ford Motor Company was approved for a $100 million performance grant from the fund in June. Shortly after, in July, the company announced it was laying off thousands of jobs, confirming in August it was cutting 3,000 salaried and contract employees.
The layoffs did not affect the 3,200 jobs expected to come to Michigan, but SOAR critics looked to this as an example of not grant millions of tax dollars to multibillion-dollar companies.
The grants from the SOAR Fund are performance-based, and Messer said Ford had not received a dime from the state because their performance period has not started. If in one of the affected facilities, a company such as Ford were to go below the baseline of employment laid out in the incentive deal, then they would have to add employment in order to receive an incentive.
“We are being fiduciaries of their tax dollars,” Messer said. “Let’s assume, stipulate only for illustrative purposes, that it went down below the baseline levels, Ford would have to add back to get to that baseline and then perform even further. So it’s still a net jobs number that has to be achieved. So really, any action that Ford may take as they operate or any other entity operates and executes in their business, will not affect whether or not they receive the incentive to perform.”
The new Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate could benefit MEDC, but Messer emphasized MEDC is nonpartisan and bipartisan, saying he looks forward to working with both Democratic and Republican leaders.
“It’s going to take all of us, right, because we’re competing globally,” Messer said. “We’re competing against 49 other states, Canadian provinces … governmental entities across the globe. No one cares whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, you’re in Michigan and we come up together across both Peninsulas, 83 counties, 10 million plus people as Michiganders, to make sure that we have opportunities for employment, to make sure that we have opportunities for employment, small business procurement opportunities, because we have the ability to compete and win some of these larger products that are critically important for involvement for employment.”
Gotion, a subsidiary of an electric vehicle battery company based in China with various locations throughout the U.S., awaits legislative approval for its incentive package. The $2.36 billion EV battery plant would be built near Big Rapids. The incentive package includes two SOAR Fund performance-based grants – one a $125 million Critical Industry Program grant and the other a $50 million Strategic Site Readiness Program grant.
Additionally, Tudor Dixon, 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate, bashed the Gotion project during one of her debates with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, calling it a “giveaway to China.”
When asked if he was confident the Gotion project would move forward next year, Messer said there were reasons independent of Gotion as to why it did not happen.
“We’re going to get it done. And I think it’d be premature for me to time that out and everything will be always in order and go through the proper channels so that everybody is aware of this, and so my hope is if we continue to press the business case to the House, the incoming House Appropriations Committee, the incoming Senate Appropriations Committee, we will get Gotion over the finish,” he said.
The SOAR Fund looks specifically at projects using billions in capital investment and dealing with thousands of people employed. For small businesses, Messer said MEDC has business development program grants that are up to $10 million per grant.
“We have a capital access program where we’re working with lending institutions to guarantee loans,” Messer said. “Real estate developers are one aspect of small businesses, so we’re working to make sure that we’re coming alongside to provide community development program grants for people who want to create mixed use opportunities.”
MEDC is more than SOAR, he added, encouraging anyone to visit the MEDC website to look for opportunities for smaller and medium-sized businesses.
Looking to 2023, Messer said he is excited to work with anyone who cares about the state – business chambers, trade associations, and elected officials at the city, county, and state levels.
“I’m just excited that Team Michigan is getting better every day,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re getting better every day and we’re excited about the results that we’re going to be able to deliver in 2023.”
Messer concluded that Michigan is on a precipice of a breakthrough, highlighting the universities, the many publicly traded companies, and the Great Lakes, saying the access to water will play to Michigan’s advantage in the future.
Tate Vows to Follow Will of the People as Speaker
Speaker-elect Rep. Joe Tate is ready to get to work for Michigan voters, and he wants to do that in a bipartisan fashion.
“Working across the aisle … the best solutions come out of that,” Tate said in a recent interview with Gongwer News Service. “But we know too, that what we saw in the elections, and what resonated with the people of Michigan, that’s going to take precedent. So, bipartisanship is a priority for me, but we’re going to make sure that we are meeting the will of the people.”
After the Democrats swept both chambers of the Legislature and the executive offices in the November election, Tate (D-Detroit) was elected as the first Democratic speaker of the House in more than a decade. In addition to ushering in a new era of leadership in the Legislature, Tate is also the first Black man to ever preside over the House.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Tate said. “The state of Michigan, I know we cherish diversity and it’s the fabric of our society. This state’s growth is because of a variety of different groups coming to this state for a variety of different reasons. … I view it as a great opportunity.”
Beyond his own opportunity, Tate sees his speakership as an opportunity for Democrats and state government to get things done for residents.
“What we saw in that election is that voters, they exercised their power. Giving us majorities in the House, Senate and reelecting the governor,” Tate said. “We haven’t had the House in 12 years, but we have been talking for a long time about what are those issues that are most important to Michigan families and to residents. That includes those pocketbook issues. We still want to look at infrastructure investment, jobs, as well as ensuring that all Michigan citizens are treated the same way in the eyes of the government.”
And although Democrats haven’t held the gavel in more than a decade, Tate believes his caucus is ready to lead.
“Democrats have been leading in the House on a lot of issues, and now we’re in the majority so that gives us an opportunity to build on the work that we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’re going to hit the ground running in terms of being in charge and being in leadership. … We’re going to do it in a thoughtful fashion.”
During the last few weeks, Tate has announced key members of his staff, including Shaquila Myers as his chief of staff and Amber McCann as press secretary (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Dec. 2, 2022). He’s also taking committee assignments into careful consideration.
“These are going to be critical roles,” he said. “We want to make sure we get that right.”
Tate also said Democratic leadership is also taking a look at committee structures to review their rules and to make sure they align with the needs of Michigan residents. One addition will be a labor committee in the coming term.
“In thinking about those issues that have been top of mind for Michigan residents around infrastructure, around jobs, around health, we’re taking a strong look at all of those,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be additional committees, but we want to be able to structure them in a way that is meeting the needs for the policies that we put forward.”
As the leader of the House, Tate will also be able to structure how the business of governing gets done.
“Having experience in the minority, I think that’s going to shape how we do it,” he said. “Regardless of majority, minority, we need to make sure that we’re looking at how we view the work.”
Specifically, Tate said he wants to make sure that he’s considering the House’s approach to staffing.
“How are we approaching and ensuring that this is a public service and people that come to the House understand that and know that?” he said. “But also, too, that this is a profession. This is an opportunity to be a subject matter expert and to do work for Michigan residents.”
The nature of work has shifted during the last few years regarding remote work and parental leave, largely due to the pandemic. That’s something Tate is keeping in mind as he takes control of leadership.
“We want to make sure that our staff is supported,” he said. “Being open to understanding what’s the best way, and there probably is no best way. There are times, obviously, with the work that we do where we come into session and House members come in, but there also could be some other creative ways to get the work done, and that’s something that we certainly have to look into and make sure that we are in the best position to get the work done.”
During their time in the minority, the Democratic caucus had some qualms about the way Republicans ran the House floor, such as their use of immediate effect, which allows a piece of legislation to go into effect immediately upon its approval by the governor. Immediate effect requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, and in the past, Democrats thought Republicans honored that loosely. House Democrats even sued over it in a previous term.
Tate said that’s something Democratic leadership is keeping in mind as they discuss House rules.
“We want to make sure that we are putting in the policies and procedures that can allow us to be the most effective at governing,” he said.
Democrats want to come out of the gate strong next session, Tate said.
“That is the direction that we will be going, and I want to make sure that we’re moving at a significant pace to ensure that happens,” he said.
Pocketbook issues are going to be the top priorities in January, Tate said.
“How are we providing relief to Michigan families? Continuing infrastructure investment and economic development?” he said. “Those are certainly top of mind. Those are some things I think that you’ll continue to see from us in terms of what that order is going to look like.”
Discussions about no-fault auto insurance could also be on the table for Democrats in the new session, Tate said.
“The intent of the recently enacted legislation was to lower costs,” Tate said. “But we know, too, that we want to make sure that Michigan residents are receiving the care they need as well as having affordable insurance rates.”
Another important issue to address is legislating legal access to abortion.
“The voters spoke during the last general election,” he said. “One of the first things that we can certainly do is make sure that our statutes reflect what the voters will was, and I think getting rid of the 1931 abortion ban is definitely top of mind.”
As with everything, Tate said he wants to legislate in response to what the people of Michigan want.
“What are those other items that need to be done and conducted in the Legislature to continue and make sure that we’re meeting the intent of the voice of the people?” he said.
Tate will be officially elected as speaker of the House when the Legislature comes back into session on Jan. 11, 2023.
Bullock To Lead Gov’t Affairs for Detroit
Sen. Marshall Bullock will head up government affairs for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan starting next year, the mayor’s office announced Monday.
Bullock (D-Detroit) is not returning to the Senate next term after being drawn into the same district as Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) and losing in the 2022 primary for the 8th Senate District. During his time in the Senate, Bullock chaired the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus.
His new appointment as director of government affairs marks a return to the Duggan administration for Bullock.
Bullock served as District 7 and District 5 manager for the mayor’s department of neighborhoods from 2014-16, where he helped address constituent concerns and worked closely with established block clubs in each district. He then served as director of community and political affairs until he was elected to the Senate in 2018.
“Marshall has spent his life building relationships at all levels of government to help him effectively advocate on behalf of the people of Detroit,” Duggan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect throughout his career and will be my administration’s point person with all local, state, and federal elected officials. We’re thrilled to have Marshall back as part of our team.”
In his new role, Bullock will lead a team of government liaisons working with Detroit City Council. He also will work closely with state and federal lawmakers pursuing the mayor’s priorities.
“The ability to bring the experience I have gained in Lansing back home to serve and work for Detroiters is a win for me and a win for the residents of this great city,” Bullock said in a statement.
After Gaining Some Normalcy, Public Health Looking to Rebuild Trust
Public health officials said Tuesday they were able to get back to some sense of normalcy in 2022 and are working to rebuild trust among the public in 2023 while also eyeing laws the Legislature could change in the new term.
Norm Hess, Michigan Association for Local Public Health executive director, updated reporters Wednesday on the status of public health and priorities in 2023. He also announced Washtenaw County Health Officer Jimena Loveluck is the association’s new president.
Looking back on 2022, Hess said officials working in public health were able to find more normalcy as the coronavirus pandemic took less of a focus. Still, he said, the pandemic isn’t over.
“One thing we’ve learned from it is that it has a tendency to surprise us so we are, you know, cautiously optimistic that we will continue to be able to manage this, but we’re always wary of new variants and other sort of changes in direction,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2023, Hess said the new Democratic majorities in the Legislature may be interested in moving policy on behalf of public health. The association hopes to discuss funding, potential changes to the Public Health Code, food establishment inspections, and the creation of a statewide sanitary code.
Loveluck said public health officials are able to get back to other more routine services with the coronavirus mitigation efforts not taking as much of a focus. One area where this is key is childhood vaccinations, as waiver rates are rising, Hess said.
“It is a struggle. It has always been a struggle. … We are seeing a decrease in vaccinations and an increase for those folks seeking a waiver for vaccinations,” Hess said. “I think that is a function of many things.”
Loveluck said immunizations are a key focus of public health departments, and they are working with other medical providers as well.
Building back trust with public health could lead to benefits in that arena. Hess said while there are individuals who have been very supportive of public health officials and what they have had to do during the last two years, just like other government agencies, there is also a lack of trust.
“I would say that because of the politization and the disinformation that came out, and just because of the nature of the crisis that we were in, I would say that there is a decrease in the trust among public health,” he said. “We are government, health departments are government agencies. Just as any other government agencies the last few years, I think it is a common thing that folks have less trust in government.”
He said officials are seeking to address this proactively through education and outreach.
Priorities for the association include having a discussion with lawmakers on funding for public health agencies and their efforts. At one point, this was envisioned as a 50-50 split with the state, but Hess said the state had not met that cost share for decades.
“Since the Public Health Code was put into effect in 1978, there has always been a legislative mandate that local health departments serve or provide eight core services and that the state contribute 50% of the cost of those services,” Hess said. “So that has not been the case.”
Services provided by public health agencies include infectious disease control, vision and hearing screening, public water supply and private groundwater programs, on-site wastewater treatment, and food protection. Hess said the state is at 44% in its contribution.
On the Public Health Code, Hess said it is possible some language can be improved or strengthened to confirm the powers and duties of health officers. He said some cleanup or clarification may also be warranted, but the association is not seeking wholesale changes.
The same goes for food regulations, Hess said, as lawmakers have introduced various changes over the years.
“I don’t necessarily have huge, you know, problems or issues that I would like to push forward. But if other people are going to be talking about it, we want to make sure that our voice is heard in those conversations so that things are not sort of done, either purposely or inadvertently, that cause an extra burden to help departments,” he said. “I guess that one thing would be extra duties and regulatory authority with no funding. You know, that’s kind of one thing that we’re constantly fighting off.”
Hess said officials are also working to retain and recruit more individuals to work in public health. There are 43 health officers in the state, and 15 health officers have left in the last three years. Some are related to increased stress during the pandemic era, and others were just natural retirements.
“That is a lot of institutional knowledge, a lot of expertise that we have lost and need to, you know, we’re quickly trying to train and orient and support those folks,” he said.
Lasinski: Ethics Probe, Chatfield Criminal Investigation Could Coexist
Outgoing House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski said Wednesday an ethics investigation by the House into former Speaker Lee Chatfield, and others could occur while the Department of Attorney General continues its criminal probe.
Lasinski made the comments to reporters during a media roundtable. For most of the term, Lasinski and Democrats called for an ethics committee to investigate both members who supported overturning the 2020 presidential election and Chatfield’s actions while he was leading the House.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) said recently, the House sought to hire a third party to investigate Chatfield’s conduct, but the Department of Attorney General asked it to delay its efforts.
Chatfield is being investigated after his sister-in-law accused him of sexual assault. He has denied all wrongdoing. The investigation has broadened to include potential financial crimes.
“I believe there is a strong difference between criminality and ethical violations, and it is the purview of this institution to protect this institution and to look into potential ethical violations and failure to uphold your oath of office,” she said. “Those are two different things, and they can absolutely happen at the same time. Is the state House responsible for criminal investigations? Absolutely not. That is the purview of the attorney general. And cooperation is the key to that. I believe that you can cooperate and conduct an ethical investigation at the same time.”
Lasinski said there is the House Business Office, the speaker’s office, and members, calling the ability to conduct an ethics investigation “pretty straight forward.”
“I think this is a lot of smoke screen,” she said. “And to say that we couldn’t have done that when we’ve successfully done it in the past and that we couldn’t have simply handed over the information or respected some of the boundaries that the AG has.”
Lasinski pointed to the House Business Office investigation into former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. However, the House investigation was concluded by the time law enforcement began looking into the pair. The House, in its resolutions to expel the pair, asked for the investigation.
Still, Lasinski said the lack of a bipartisan ethics committee was a failure, and the House could have done it through rules at any time. It went beyond Chatfield, she said.
She referenced efforts by some legislative Republicans to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“When I think about the fact that there was a plot for folks to sleep in this Capitol, right? My second term is when we had the assault rifles here. My third term is when we had representatives plotting to sleep here at the Capitol,” she said. “And we had (Rep. Daire Rendon) lead false electors to the Capitol. It’s unconscionable that we’ve never looked at that. That is a clear breach of the Constitution in the state of Michigan and your oath of office, and we should have taken a strong bipartisan look at those things.”
Rendon was part of the group of Republicans who attempted to enter the Capitol to cast electoral votes for former President Donald Trump following the 2020 presidential election, which he lost. She also joined the lawsuit Texas v. Pennsylvania, which sought to invalidate Michigan’s elector selection process.
She also allegedly told the Roscommon County clerk that the state House of Representatives was investigating election fraud and asked for access to vote tabulators and could face criminal charges.
“And I believe that all rolled into us defying expectations on election night,” Lasinski said. “We won on election night. We beat expectations.”
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