Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > Jan. 27, 2023 | This Week in Government: $200M For Paper Mill, $150M For Housing Top $1.1B Supplemental

Jan. 27, 2023 | This Week in Government: $200M For Paper Mill, $150M For Housing Top $1.1B Supplemental

January 27, 2023
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

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.

$200M For Paper Mill, $150M For Housing Top $1.1B Supplemental

Democrats unleashed a massive $1.1 billion supplemental spending bill on Thursday. The bill, in part, served to close the books on the 2021-2022 legislative term but also included more than $900 million for economic and community development.

SB 7 totaled $1.1 billion, with $146.3 million to close the books for the fiscal year 2021-2022, plus $946.2 million in new spending for the current fiscal year. The funding for the current fiscal year includes $706.2 million from the General Fund.

The new Democratic majority took a page out of the Republican strategy book from the past two terms, keeping all details of the new spending behind closed doors until a House-Senate conference committee advanced the bill’s final version to the Senate floor.

“We took the time to invest in a bunch of priorities that people have said they needed prioritized,” Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said after the conference committee vote. “But more importantly, as I said when we first started this process, we closed our books.”

Most of the appropriations for the fiscal year 2022-23 are allocated to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

The bill contains funds for several projects in the fiscal year 2022-23, including $200 million to transform a paper mill in Wells Township near Escanaba. Last week, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation approved funding for the same project. The mill expansion and the new machine are expected to result in a $1.06 billion investment in the Upper Peninsula. There was a brief hiccup when the conference report, as approved, earmarked the funds for a project in Escanaba, not Wells Township. The bill was hastily called back to the conference, which corrected the error.

The supplemental also contains $150 million for affordable housing and housing gap financing, $150 million for a deposit into the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund, $100 million for community revitalization and placemaking grants, $75 million for blight elimination, and $75 million for small business smart zones.

The Senate passed the supplemental on a vote of 24-14 and granted it immediate effect. Sen John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), and Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) voted with Democrats to pass the legislation in the Senate.

The House passed the bill in a vote of 60-48, with Republicans Rep. Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboygan), Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock), Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Rep. David Prestin (R-Cedar River) and Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) voting with Democrats in favor of the legislation. One Democrat, Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City), voted against it.

SB 7 was approved by a conference committee Thursday evening before it was sent to both chambers for a vote. The committee approved the bill in a vote of 4-2, with Rep. Ken Borton (R-Gaylord) and Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon) voting against it.

SB 7 was originally introduced to close the books on the last fiscal year and didn’t contain appropriations for the current fiscal year, apart from $1.5 million for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Following the vote in the Senate, Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) ripped into Democrats over what he called a lack of transparency.

“I feel it has been a disservice to Michigan taxpayers who have been unable to find out what it, this bill, contains until the very last minute,” Albert said. “It has been a rushed process for reasons that still have not been explained.”

He also said the bill ballooned from about $148 million total spending in the version passed last week in the Senate to more than $1 billion on Thursday, adding large spending items not subject to thorough scrutiny.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall also criticized the vote Thursday night, saying it was rushed and that Democrats have no plan for how much of the funds will be parsed out.

“What we were sold as a book closing….turned into a $1 billion Democrat wish list,” he said. “I look at the whole thing and it’s a travesty for taxpayers and a real disappointment.”

On Tuesday, when the House zeroed out the spending in the Senate-passed version to tee it up to go to conference, they scoffed at Republicans’ complaints of secrecy, saying it was merely a procedural vote to cue up an unremarkable book-closing supplemental.

“There is nothing ‘procedural’ about spending almost $1B in taxpayer money,” said Eric Ventimiglia of Michigan Rising Action in a tweet.

Anthony stressed that the bill’s most pressing item was to close the books for the past fiscal year. The other spending items came about during negotiations with the House and other senators.

“We also saw an opportunity to invest in some critical, urgent things such as housing,” Anthony said. “That’s what we just wanted to do, is we wanted to make sure that we invested in those key pieces.”

Anthony dismissed the concerns raised by Albert about transparency, saying there were conversations with Republican members over the supplemental.

“I don’t know if it’s because the Democrats are now in the majority, but some of this is very standard process,” she said.

While standard in the context of the previous four years, the handling of the budget in the past four years stands in stark contrast to longer-ago practices where the House would pass its version of a budget bill with its priorities, the Senate would pass its version, and the final version would be a blend, albeit sometimes with some new items added at the conference. Now the goal appears to be to hold all details from public view until the conference committee meets just before the final passage votes.

For as much as some Republicans groused, clearly, some accommodations were made for their priorities because more than enough Senate Republicans provided the necessary votes to give the bill immediate effect.

House Appropriations Chair Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) said that Democrats were pleased to be able to deliver on housing as part of the supplemental.

“One of the biggest priorities for our caucus and for people in Michigan was the housing part of it,” she said. “I also like that we reached across the aisle. We hit business, workforce development– priorities that both caucuses have.”

She also said that although there has been criticism in the past of the state giving incentives to businesses through SOAR and other funding mechanisms, it was essential to keep Michigan competitive.

“We’re competing across the United States to keep good jobs in Michigan,” she said. “Right now, state by state, it is something that we have to do. We have to compete with the other states to get good business here, to keep our economy strong and keep good jobs in Michigan.”

With the addition of $150 million to SOAR, the economic development fund now sits at $890 million. The Michigan Strategic Fund has approved $850 million in projects so far, but the Legislature has not yet approved those transfers. Witwer said she wasn’t aware of what the slate of projects were.

The $150 million for affordable housing and housing gap financing would be for the Legislature and the State Budget Office to create an affordable housing tax credit gap financing program to reduce the burden of housing costs. The program doesn’t currently exist, and the Legislature plans to unappropriate and reappropriate the funding in another supplemental bill within 45 days to create the program.

Other items include $33 million in infrastructure grants. Of those funds, $25 million would be allocated to the City of Walker in Kent County for improvements to the Fruit Ridge Avenue bridge. The other $8 million is earmarked for the Village of Lexington in Sanilac County for the redevelopment of Lexington Harbor.

The bill also includes $50 million for a missing middle housing grant program to be administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to increase the supply of housing stock targeted to households with incomes between 185% and 300% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The money would be used to incentivize eligible developers that invest in, construct or rehabilitate related properties. The funding comes from the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Another $15 million in federal coronavirus funding is earmarked for removing transportation, child care, clothing needs, tools for work, and other barriers that prevent people from entering and staying in the workforce.

The $75 million for small business smart zones and business accelerators would be administered by the Michigan Strategic Fund for small businesses disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The Michigan Strategic Fund would be authorized to award grants. The $100 million earmarked for community revitalization would also be administered by the Michigan Strategic Fund to invest in a project encouraging population and revenue growth.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission also will receive $3.2 million under the bill to cover additional legal costs. Of that sum, $1.5 million would be reappropriated fund that was part of the $2.2 million appropriated in 2022, which was not spent by the end of the last fiscal year.

The appropriations for fiscal year 2021-22 include $120 million in federal funds for the Department of Health and Human Services Food Assistance Program.

The House also passed SB 8 on Thursday night in a vote of 74-34. The bill was another book-closing measure for the School Aid Fund. The bill, as passed by the House, includes $27.9 million for fiscal year 2022-23 to improve learning environments, specifically to prevent “acts of bullying, violence and hate.” That money comes from federal funds.

EITC, Retirement Tax Bills Clear House, Senate with Some GOP Support

The new Democratic legislative majorities passed legislation Thursday rolling back the state’s taxes on retirement income and raising the Earned Income Tax Credit with some bipartisan support, moves which would unwind key parts of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s tax overhaul from more than a decade ago.

Democrats have long decried the Snyder-era tax law changes as being, in their words, a wrong that they sought to make right. Thursday’s votes were a major step for Democrats in accomplishing their objective.

The Senate moved first on its bills, and then in a surprise late addition to its agenda, the House did the same, skipping the committee process and discharging its bills from the Tax Policy Committee straight to the floor. The Senate had far more debate than the House, which cast its votes after 8 p.m.

On SB 1, the retirement tax bill, several Republicans ripped the Democrats’ proposal as giving preferential treatment to people with public pensions. They introduced several failed floor amendments that would have eliminated or lowered the personal income tax rate, expanded the exemptions under SB 1 for all seniors, and provided a $500 child credit for families.

For the EITC increase under SB 3, some Republicans opposed it on the grounds of federal data estimating high percentages of claims being made in error, with some of those claims being fraudulent.

Despite the concerns of Republicans on both bills, there was bipartisan support in the final Senate votes.

The vote on SB 1 was 23-15, with Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), and Sen. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills) voting with all 20 Democrats in support.

Senators voted 27-11 to pass SB 3, with Sen. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), Damoose, Huizenga, Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township), Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), Sen. Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Township) and Webber voting yes.

An S-2 substitute was adopted for SB 1 prior to passage which would eliminate a four-year phasing-in period for the bill, making the changes effective during the 2023 tax year rather than being fully phased in in 2026.

The bill would allow seniors with pension or other retirement benefits to either continue with the Snyder-era taxation formula or revert to the pre-2012 system. Prior to the changes that began with the 2012 tax year, pensions from public sector jobs were fully exempt from the state income tax, and retirement benefits from private sector jobs were subject to a large deduction, $42,240 for singles and $84,480 for those filing jointly with those adjusting for inflation.

The bill makes a housekeeping change to adjust them for inflation in the statute, meaning the 2023 deductions will be $56,961 for singles and $113,922 for those filing jointly.

Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-Saint Clair Shores) said his bill would provide a boost to seniors facing rising costs of living with fixed incomes, rolling back an additional burden imposed on them by the 2011 law changes that they did not expect.

“The time is now to restore the promise we have made to seniors across our state,” Hertel said.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) countered prior to the vote by saying SB 1 is not fair and equitable because it only impacts about one-third of seniors. He cited his 75-year-old neighbor running his family’s farm seeing no assistance under the bill, nor would other working or retired individuals of similar age. He said if the state is going to roll back such a tax, it should apply to all seniors.

“Working for the government for 30 years shouldn’t entitle you to lower taxes while someone waiting tables for 30 years will be paying full income taxes,” Nesbitt said. “We should provide relief to all seniors, not just a select few. … This proposal unnecessarily leaves way too many seniors behind.”

Other Republicans echoed Nesbitt’s reservations about SB 1.

Runestad ripped the bill as being “the big bonanza public pension relief” proposal. He said it would only reward “big pensioners.”

Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) called it unfair to provide a tax advantage to those who retired with pensions from government jobs over those with private sector retirements.

“It makes more sense to lower the retirement age and then make more income exempt from taxation right up front and across the board,” Albert said. “This would be a simpler and fairer senior relief plan.”

Hertel was asked by reporters following the vote on SB 1 about the Republican argument from the 2011 law over fairness and whether retirees with public pensions should be paying some taxes.

“They gave corporations a tax break and to pay for it put it on the backs of seniors across our state, and so a 4.25% tax might not sound like a lot, but when you’re living on a fixed income every little bit helps,” Hertel said. “Our seniors have paid for years into the system. They were promised a pension. We want to make sure they get what they were promised.”

The 2011 tax changes eliminated the Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a 6% Corporate Income Tax that raised far less revenue.

Nesbitt told reporters the GOP amendments were good ideas, and he was disappointed the majority rejected them.

“This is something that really geared towards wealthier seniors, not working seniors, not those seniors with lower incomes,” Nesbitt said.

Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Sarah Anderson, in a statement, took aim at Senate Democrats for rejecting the Republican amendments for SB 1, which she said would have provided for all seniors.

“When the state is sitting on a $9 billion surplus, and inflation is running rampant, Democrats would rather limit tax relief to their political allies than help all Michiganders when they need it most,” Anderson said. “Senate Republicans offered a tax cut for all Michigan residents, and every single Democrat voted no. Today Senate Democrats made it abundantly clear: everyday Michiganders are on their own.”

There was also some floor debate on SB 3 prior to its passage earlier Thursday.

Under SB 3, the EITC would increase from the current 6% to 30%, retroactive to the 2022 tax year.

Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), the sponsor of SB 3, said that studies have shown the EITC to be highly effective, adding most beneficiaries of the credit only claim it on their taxes for a few years.

“This puts money in the pockets of working families now, when they need it the most,” McDonald Rivet said.

Some Republicans, however, were not convinced of the program’s effectiveness.

“The majority is pushing a bill that will help some Michiganders but not all as they look to take us back to the ‘Lost Decade,’” Runestad said.

Runestad cited a federal Internal Revenue Service estimate from 2022 that between 21 and 26% of EITC claims are paid in error.

The IRS states that some are unintentional mistakes due to the complexity of the law governing the EITC, while some are also intentional fraud.

Albert also voiced concerns over waste and fraud. He also said he did not believe claims from supporters that it incentivizes people to work.

“There are some strong arguments to be made that the EITC may actually discourage work, because working more hours would reduce the size of the credit,” Albert said.

The EITC expansion, however, had the broadest support. Not only was the business community in favor of it, but nearly half the Senate Republican Caucus and nearly the entire House Republican Caucus were too.

McDonald Rivet told reporters her hope is that the House, through ongoing negotiations, might be able to come on board with her proposal of raising the EITC to 30%. Under HB 4002, the EITC would be raised the 20%.

“We’ve heard Michiganders talking to us over the last two years that they needed immediate relief, and our first priority was to make sure that they got that,” McDonald Rivet said. “This is actually going to have a significant impact on working families.”

There was far less discussion in the House, which passed its bill to restore the pre-Snyder taxation of retirement income (HB 4001) on a 67-41 vote and then the Earned Income Tax Credit expansion (HB 4002) on a 100-8 vote.

Groups with a coalition pushing for the EITC increase thanked the Senate for its passage in statements.

“As the governor noted in the State of the State address, expansion of the EITC will help hardworking families that are barely getting by, providing them an opportunity to step up and out of poverty toward meaningly economic security,” Monique Stanton, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said.

Tom Hickson, vice president of public policy with the Michigan Catholic Conference, was also pleased with Thursday’s vote on SB 3.

“Expansion of the EITC is a pro-family, pro-child policy that provides a level of stability and assistance to hep less affluent families get by and cover the cost of basic necessities that many families struggle to afford,” Hickson said.

HOUSE ACTION: The House also passed bills that would roll back the state’s tax on retirement income and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to 30%.

HB 4001, sponsored by Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) was passed as introduced by a vote of 67-41. Rep. Brian BeGole (R-Perry), Rep. Bob Bezotte (R-Marion Township), Rep. Nancy DeBoer (R-Holland), Rep. Graham Filler (R-Duplain Township), Rep. Thomas Kuhn (R-Troy), Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Rep. Kathy Schmaltz (R-Jackson), Rep. Bill Schuette (R-Midland), Rep. Alicia St. Germaine (R-Harrison Township), Rep. Donni Steele (R-Orion Township) and Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills) voted with Democrats to pass the legislation.

HB 4002, sponsored by Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) passed by a wide margin, 100-8, with Republican representatives Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale), Rep. Joseph Fox (R-Fremont), Rep. Neil Friske (R-Charlevoix), Rep. Jamie Greene (R-Richmond), Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Rep. Josh Schriver (R-Oxford) and Rep. Rachelle Smit (R-Shelbyville) voting against it.

Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill keeps the four-year phase-in, starting at a 25% rollback and adding 25% each year, until the tax fully returns in 2026 to what it was prior to 2012.

Rep. Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) spoke in support of the bill from the House floor on Thursday.

“Many senior citizens in the communities I represent – Westland, Wayne, Canton and Dearborn Heights – they’re struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “Prices across the board are getting higher, we all know that… These retirement taxes should have never taken place.”

Witwer also spoke on behalf of her bill.

“This retirement tax was implemented to fill a void of revenue of over a billion dollars with retirees left footing the bill from their hard earned savings. It isn’t fair. Michigan seniors deserve better,” she said. “It’s time to undo the mistakes made by a previous Legislature and governor.”

Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron) criticized the bill, and the process Democrats used to bring it up.

“When nearly 2 million Michigan seniors need relief, this legislation singled out a select few of them to provide the most relief,” he said. “Neighbors in the same retirement communities will be taxed differently based solely on the employment opportunities made available to them 30 years ago. It’s bad policy and it’s unfair.”

Beeler went on to say that Democrats had practiced “political gamesmanship” by passing the bill without moving it through the committee process.

The House also passed HB 4002 with a substitute to align with the bill passed by the Senate earlier on Thursday. The new version would raise the rate to 30% and make the cut retroactive for the 2022 tax year.

“We’re here today to make a change…that will help Michiganders make ends meet, that will reduce the impact of inflation, change that will charge up our economy,” said Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids). “It is our responsibility to help these families who have needs today.”

Schuette praised Democrats for making the expansion retroactive for the 2022 tax year, a component he included in a bill he introduced.

“I am glad we could collaborate on a solution that is going to provide hardworking families with real relief and make life more affordable. Incorporating our plan reflects what people really need – real help, right now,” he said in a statement.

Whitmer Urges Relief Amid Inflation, Action On Long-Sought Priorities

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out an agenda for 2023 in her State of the State address Wednesday designed to take advantage of a historical rarity – unified Democratic control of state government during flush budget times.

From reversing tax changes championed by former Gov. Rick Snyder, Democrats have abhorred for years to expanding programs for preschool and tuition aid to achieving long-sought Democratic dreams like repealing the state’s ban on abortion, passing new regulations on firearms and codifying civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community, Whitmer said it was time for action.

“My fellow Michiganders: We spoke with a clear voice in November,” Whitmer said. “We want the ability to raise a family without breaking the bank. Strong protections for our fundamental rights to vote and control our own bodies. Leaders who will work across the aisle to solve problems and deliver on the issues that make a real difference in our lives.”

Whitmer enters the 2023-24 term with perhaps the strongest hand a Democratic governor has ever had. Not only does she have the first Democratic-controlled Legislature in 40 years, but it’s only the seventh year since Statehood that Democrats have controlled the governor’s office and the Legislature at the same time. Further, unlike when Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard took office in 1983 with a Democratic-controlled Legislature, Whitmer leads a state government more flush with cash than ever and not having to spend enormous political capital on a tax increase to keep state government running.

Most of the policy proposals in the speech were released in advance of the speech – except one.

Whitmer said she would propose “a sustainable funding source for our economic development efforts.” So far, Whitmer and the Legislature have funded the new Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund in fits and starts. She did not provide further details.

Additionally, Whitmer put a timeline on her proposal to fund a tutoring program to address learning loss from the closure of in-person schooling for much of 2021, calling for the Legislature to pass funding for it before it adjourns for the spring recess at the end of March.

It marked the culmination of a phase when Democrats can celebrate their victories – Whitmer received a thunderous ovation from the west side of the House chamber where the Democrats sit when she entered and many more standing ovations from them during her speech – and the pivot toward trying to achieve their agenda with the barest of majorities in the House and Senate.

The joint convention – the first State of the State speech in the House chamber since 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit – also underscored that while Whitmer, Democrats, and Republicans may talk of working in a bipartisan way, the partisan divides are still strong.

Republicans stood to applaud sparingly, mainly when Whitmer spoke of the need to increase opportunities for the young in Michigan and some also for economic development and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. When Whitmer entered the chamber through the center aisle, she began shaking hands with those on both sides, and then as she looked in the direction of Rep. Joseph Fox (R-Fremont), who had his hands in his pockets and did not appear interested in exchanging pleasantries, she moved on and shook hands with Rep. Graham Filler (R-Duplain Township).

For her part, Whitmer appeared to stare down the Republicans when she spoke on some issues like the EITC, her proposal to provide free preschool for all 4-year-olds, firearm regulation, and expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, looking intently in their direction.

When Republicans did not respond to her proposal to expand the Great Start Readiness Program to all 4-year-olds, Whitmer, looking to their side of the House chamber, departed from her prepared text and said, “I know we might have different perspectives, but I sure hope we can all get around supporting 4-year-olds across Michigan.”

And later, when Whitmer spoke of how abortion bans in Ohio and Indiana could enable Michigan to lure people and employers to move here, but Republicans, who largely oppose the legalization of abortion, did not respond, she lamented she thought “Ohio shade would get everyone up.”

Whitmer built the speech around the proposals that dominated her reelection campaign and even much of her first term: reducing the taxation of retirement income, expanding the EITC, abortion, civil rights for the LGBTQ community, and public education. Many of these issues Whitmer focused on the theme of lowering costs during a time of high inflation.

Republicans continue to hammer Democrats nationally on the highest inflation in 40 years. Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) delivered the formal Republican response from the produce section of a grocery store to emphasize the pain of inflation and pressed Whitmer to support broad, not targeted, tax relief.

Whitmer, during her reelection campaign, filmed part of an ad in a grocery store, and she also emphasized the problem of inflation in the campaign and Wednesday’s speech.

“Michiganders are facing the pinch right now,” she said. “Picking up items at the store and then putting them back before checking out. Having tough conversations about medical bills, prescription drugs and what paths their kids can afford after high school. We are all concerned about making sure we live in a safe neighborhood and have jobs and businesses in our towns next year and next decade. We might not be able to solve inflation or supply chain issues on our own, but we must work together to lower costs and put Michigan on the path to a brighter future.”

Returning to something resembling the pre-Snyder taxation of retirement income, combined with expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as having the state pick up the cost of preschool for all 4-year-olds, would deliver needed relief to those feeling the sting of inflation, Whitmer said.

The speech largely stuck to proposals with the most popular, universal appeal, as well as long-sought Democratic priorities on abortion and civil rights for gays, lesbians, and transgender persons.

It did not include a raft of issues on which Democrats are expected to act like returning the maximum number of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks (it was cut to 20 during the Snyder administration) or repealing Snyder era laws prohibiting mandatory membership in unions or non-member agency fees by employees under a collective bargaining agreement.

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) told reporters after the speech labor should not be discouraged that repealing right to work did not come up during Whitmer’s address.

“When you look at the bills that we’ve introduced, we want to show that workers are certainly valued,” he said. “We know that there’s going to be a focus for us as Democrats on labor issues.”

Nor did the governor offer a new long-term road funding proposal, instead quickly referencing the continued large amount of federal aid from the infrastructure bill signed into law last year.

And there was no mention of whether Whitmer wants the Legislature to send her a bill undoing the cut in payments health care clinics providing care to those catastrophically injured in auto crashes received as part of the 2019 no-fault rewrite she signed.

Whitmer also made no mention of a potential income tax rate cut, from 4.25% to 4.05%, that could take effect as a result of growth in revenues to the General Fund triggered by a 2015 law Republicans backed as part of a road funding package that raised gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Overall, Whitmer declared the state of the state to be “strong and ready to go.”

The governor called herself a “hopeful person” and urged pressing forward to address the state’s needs.

“Don’t get me wrong. I am not naïve,” she said. “Over the last four years, we’ve faced historic challenges and seen the visceral consequences of political division. The prevailing take now seems to be that things will get worse and fatalism is in vogue as people wonder aloud whether America’s best days are behind her. I reject that. We cannot mistake pessimism for intelligence. And we must never forget who we are.”


MIGOP Chair Race Gets New Dynamic with Trump Endorsing DePerno

Matt DePerno, candidate for chair of the Michigan Republican Party, was endorsed last week by former President Donald Trump.

Trump’s campaign sent out the endorsement Friday night, saying DePerno was the candidate who would be able to unite the party.

“Matt is tough and he will not back down from the fight. He’s a smart lawyer who knows how to win,” the endorsement from the Trump campaign said. “No one has done more to fight for election integrity. … He is the only candidate who has a proven background on election integrity, fundraising, party unity and has my complete trust.”

DePerno was backed by Trump in his candidacy for attorney general and is under investigation for an alleged plot to seize and tamper with voting machines (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Nov. 4, 2022).

The MIGOP has 11 candidates running to become party chair (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Jan. 6, 2023). In addition to DePerno, notable names in the race include former secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo; Lena Epstein, a former candidate for the University of Michigan Board of Regent and the U.S. House; and Scott Greenlee, a political consultant who has worked with has worked with several legislators, including Rep. Ann Bollin, former Rep. Beau LaFave, Rep. Bill G. Schuette, Rep. Brad PaquetteRep. Andrew Beeler, and Rep Jay DeBoyer.

The race comes at a critical time for Michigan Republicans, shut out of control from state government for the first time in 40 years. It also follows a cycle in which the Michigan Republican Party was a relative nonfactor from a financial standpoint in elections due to a lack of funds resulting from top donors rebelling over the party’s leaders.

Karamo and Epstein did not respond to requests for interviews prior to publication.

Michelle Smith, chair for the 10th Congressional District Republican Party, said that Greenlee was the best candidate for the position due to his experience, though she didn’t count out DePerno.

“It’s going to hurt us for years to come if we don’t elect the right person,” she said. “(The party) needs to look ahead. That’s really the focus. A lot of candidates that are running are still stuck on 2020. We’re about to enter the cycle for 2024. So, time to move on. Time to move forward.”

With that in mind, Smith said that Trump’s endorsement wasn’t as important in the state’s party politics as it might have been two years ago, especially after the losses the MIGOP took during the November election.

“There’s just a lot of frustration,” she said. “I’m not sure how that plays. The delegate base is obviously very much changed, but I don’t know that everybody is as enamored as they maybe once were.”

Greenlee wasn’t concerned about Trump’s endorsement of DePerno.

“I think that my credentials stand on their own,” he said. “I do know the former president is somebody that does still have a great following. I certainly worked hard for him in 2016 and supported him in ’17, ’18, ’19 and ’20. And if he’s the nominee again, we’ll be doing everything I can to return him to the White House.”

He went on to say that it was important for the MIGOP to consider races from the White House all the way down through city council, local judges, and education boards.

“A lot of that comes down to talking issues versus talking political party or brand,” he said. “I’m a Reagan Republican, in regards to the fact that I believe in the 11th commandment, you’re not going to hear me attacking a fellow Republican. I’m also a Reagan Republican in the fact that I recognize as long as we agree 80% of the time, you’re helping build the process, and you’re a trusted and valued ally. … We need to do our best to focus on the platform and the issues that unite us.”

Greenlee called the 2024 election cycle the most important for Michigan Republicans since the 1980s, citing the open U.S. Senate seat and the party’s losses during the last election cycle at the top of the ticket, both chambers of the Legislature and on the State Board of Education.

“The stakes are very, very high,” he said.

Greenlee said that although the party is divided right now, he has connections across the board, which will put him in a good position to unite Michigan Republicans behind a platform to raise money and win campaigns.

“There are all these labels rolling around. I like labels of American and Republican,” he said. “If you can fit into those two, I want to manage this party by inclusion and have you involved in the party.”


Bipartisan Ohio, MI Congressional Leaders Request $425M for Great Lakes

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga joined two congressional leaders in a letter to President Joe Biden requesting $425 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the fiscal year 2024 budget.

Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) and Huizenga (R-Zeeland) along with US. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) penned a letter requesting the federal government allocate $425 million for the initiative, saying the project is “protecting these waters, revitalizing our waterfronts, and addressing the urgent challenges threatening the health of our communities and the Great Lakes economy.”

“Since its inception in 2010, more than $3.3 billion has been used to fund 6,850 projects to combat the greatest threats to the Great Lakes,” the co-chairs of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force said in the letter. “For example, over 6,000 river miles have been cleared of dams and other barriers reconnecting fish to important habitat. More than 375 million gallons of untreated runoff and more than 2 million pounds of phosphorus, a significant contributor to harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, have been mitigated and captured through GLRI implemented projects in priority watersheds.”

The congressional members also said investing in the initiative can equate to more than 5,000 jobs per year, and the Great Lakes are overall a “key economic driver” for commerce, agriculture, transportation, and tourism for millions across the country.

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