March 24, 2023 | This Week in Government: Hall Criticizes Senate Dems for Failing to Act on Tax Cut PlanMarch 24, 2023
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.
Hall Criticizes Senate Dems for Failing to Act On Tax Cut Plan
House Republicans criticized Senate Democratic leadership on Thursday for their failure to advance tax bills negotiated as part of the supplemental passed with Republican support at the beginning of the month and included $650 million for the Ford EV plant in Marshall.
“Leader Brinks and Democrats are going back on their word, betraying the people and small businesses of Michigan, and destroying the trust necessary to govern in the middle,” House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) said in a statement. “I negotiated a bipartisan deal in good faith with Gov. Whitmer and Democrat leaders to protect Michigan small business from overzealous state tax bureaucrats. But now that Democrats got the Republican votes they needed, Democrats are infighting and killing good policy that would help local job providers. This shameful, dishonest partisan gamesmanship will prevent any good-faith governance in Lansing.”
Six bills were part of the package including HB 4054, HB 4055, HB 4039, HB 4253, HB 4219 , and HB 4137.
Two bills, HB 4054 and HB 4055, which would exempt industrial processing from sales and use tax, respectively, were both passed by the House but were not concurred by the Senate.
Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Brownstown), sponsor of HB 4055, criticized the Senate for its lack of cooperation on the tax plan.
“I came to Lansing to work on behalf of hard-working people and their families across our Downriver communities. This involves working together in the Legislature to deliver results for the people, not ourselves,” she said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate this plan that lowers taxes and improves the lives of small business owners both in our district and across Michigan is being held up over which side would get the credit when it’s signed. Putting misguided political stunts over the pocketbooks of hard-working small business owners does not sit right with me.”
Two other bills, HB 4039 and HB 4253, would exempt delivery and installation from sales and use tax. Both bills have been enrolled.
Sponsored by Hall, HB 4219 would add two members chosen by the minority party in the House and the Senate to the Michigan Strategic Fund Board.
The final bill in the package is HB 4137, which also relates to industrial processing, was not voted on by the Senate.
“This is going to break trust between the Republicans and the Democrats in this town, and with narrow one-seat majorities and fractured caucuses where people don’t show up, and leaders who don’t get along and are very divided, good luck. Good luck getting things done.” Hall said.
Amber McCann, press secretary for House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), said the House Democratic leadership was pleased with what the chamber had accomplished.
“We have six of our initial agenda items that have been accomplished. So, all in all, I think the speaker and the House Democratic Caucus would consider this a very productive 70 days of session since the start of the year,” McCann said. “I don’t think there’s anything that we’re leaving today that was on our list of things to do that wasn’t accomplished.”
House Condemns Holocaust Comparisons After GOP Walkout
The House floor erupted in pandemonium on Thursday during what seemed to be a simple vote on legislation to allow for excused absences for students playing Taps at military funerals. The chaos came ahead of the introduction of a resolution condemning comparisons between gun regulations and the Holocaust.
The House was expected to vote on at least two pieces of legislation during Thursday’s session, the last before the Legislature’s spring recess. The tentative agenda included SB 101, a bill to eliminate the sunset on virtual meetings for private insurance companies, and HB 4157, legislation that would excuse students from school for the purpose of playing Taps at military funerals. Instead, the chamber adjourned without taking any roll call votes.
Both bills were advanced to Third Reading, and HB 4157 was on the board for a vote when Republicans suddenly left the House floor to caucus.
House leadership then took the bill down and issued a Call of the House, which would force Republican members to return to the chamber. The chamber then took up HR 68, sponsored by Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) and Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), which condemned comparisons between gun regulations and the Holocaust.
Republicans did return to the floor prior to a voice vote being taken, but it was unclear if any members voiced support for the resolution.
“We have to stop using the Holocaust for political points,” Steckloff said. “You couldn’t even call it a genocide because it was so big it has a whole new name.”
The resolution comes a day after the Michigan GOP tweeted a comparison between gun control policies and the systematic murder of Jewish people during the Holocaust (See Gongwer Michigan March 22, 2023).
During yesterday’s session, Steckloff attempted to speak on antisemitism and the MIGOP tweet during a floor speech but was gaveled down. The resolution on Thursday was intended to give her an opportunity to speak on an important issue, said Amber McCann, press secretary for House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit).
“Any time that something like this happens, and I have to speak out about it, my life because a living H-E-L-L the next day and the next few weeks,” she said. “Today I woke up, of course, to numerous Nazi swastikas, numerous death threats. … It’s important to talk about things like this anytime it happens and try to educate. What is a trope? What is the Holocaust? Why using that is not right.”
House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) said Republicans left during the middle of the vote on HB 4157 because they needed to caucus on the resolution because it was not on the agenda.
“They’re changing things or adding things without notifying our caucus,” he said. “It’s customary to allow the party time to explain what’s going on. That’s what we were trying to do. They weren’t going to give us that opportunity to caucus.”
McCann said it’s customary for resolutions to be added to the agenda at the start of session.
Hall said he called a caucus meeting during the vote on HB 4157 to force Democrats to wait for their party to be done with its meeting because Democrats didn’t have enough members in session on Thursday to pass HB 4157 independently.
“My view was they weren’t giving us time to caucus. There’s some bill up here. They can’t pass that bill without us, whatever that was, so they’d have to wait for us because they need a 56th vote, and that would give us some time to caucus,” he said. “When we came out … they pulled it, and this next thing was on there. We were out here, but they did this voice vote, and whatever.”
Hall called Democrat’s move to introduce the resolution political theater to distract from their failure to pass tax bills that were negotiated as part of the supplemental appropriations package passed with Republican support at the beginning of the month and included $650 million for the Ford EV plant in Marshall (see separate story).
“They couldn’t get this deal done today, which is the real story,” Hall said.
When asked to comment on Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo’s comments yesterday, which compared gun legislation to the Holocaust, Hall said he disagreed with it, but he declined to elaborate further.
“I disagreed with the comment,” he said. “This is about trying to inform our members.”
Despite calling a caucus to discuss the resolution, Hall said he still had not seen a copy of it following session Thursday afternoon and so he would not speak to it.
“Give us an opportunity to understand what we’re voting on,” he said. “We wanted to talk about it. And then we could come out and vote. And then they changed everything and that’s what happened.”
Steckloff made an amendment to the resolution on the House floor, which originally included the word “Republican.”
“We put Republican in it, just to clarify what we were exactly talking about,” she said. “So, (taking it out) makes it more of a well-rounded type of thing.”
She said she was “flabbergasted” by the comments of Karamo yesterday and called House Republicans decision to walk out of the chamber ahead of the resolution “sad.”
“I was so completely flabbergasted that the chair, once presented with all this information of why this is so hurtful to so many Jewish people, she still continued to double down,” Steckloff said. “It’s sad that they would walk out, especially yesterday, having so many of their members come up to me and apologize. They know it was wrong. … This is all political theater, and they just couldn’t handle the heat.”
In the Senate, Sen. Jeremy Moss also criticized Karamo and the Michigan GOP tweet during a floor speech.
“We already knew that Kristian Karamo is a vile communicator, but apparently, there is no bottom to the pit from which she operates the Michigan Republican Party,” Moss said. “It’s mind-numbing to believe Kristina Karamo’s version of history that grandmothers and grandfathers, infants and children, would or could just simply shoot their way out of a genocide.”
He went on to say that the selection of Karamo as the party chair “shows everyone else what the Republican party has become.”
Arbit said he was angry that House Republicans walked out of the chamber ahead of the introduction of the resolution.
“I’m less interested in the political machinations and more interested in Republicans finally taking accountability and cleaning house,” he said. “Taking accountability for the rising extremism, hatred, bigotry and antisemitism that is just proliferation through their ranks and has gone on for quite a long time.”
Arbit called the rise of political violence and white supremacy, especially within the Republican Party, the fundamental problem in the American political system.
“We have one party (where) extremist fringe has now become the mainstream,” he said. “It’s not just the Jewish community and not just Jewish voter, but it’s all voters in this country who do not want to live in a country where one party is fomenting political violence and hatred.”
Arbit introduced legislation on Wednesday to address the rise of antisemitism. HB 4327 would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to add ethnicity as a protected category. It would also provide definitions of what antisemitism is and what it looks like in practice.
“Jews are not just a religious group, but also an ethnic group,” Arbit said. “This really gets at the fact that Jews sort of straddle the boundaries of the classifications that we have for different demographic groups.”
He said it was important to provide guidelines to help identify antisemitism when and where it occurs.
“I have found, just in my three months in the Legislature, how few people understand what antisemitism is, what antisemitism looks like and how it manifests,” Arbit said. “It’s really important that we equip our authorities and agencies that are responsible for assessing and investigating potential cases of discrimination against us with a commonsense, reasonable standard by which to assess those cases.”
Brownfield Redevelopment Expansion Clears Senate
An expansion of eligibility for housing assistance and development activities through the Brownfield Redevelopment Act was passed Thursday by the Senate, a move a key sponsor of the proposed changes said would help address the state’s housing shortage.
Under the bills, the tax increment financing tool used with brownfield redevelopment programs of former contaminated sites would be expanded to use TIF capture for housing as an eligible use.
Passing by votes of 25-13 were SB 129, SB 130, SB 131, and SB 132. Five Republicans sided with the Democrats in support of the bills in the package: Sen. Joseph Bellino of Monroe, Sen. John Damoose of Harbor Springs, Sen. Mark Huizenga of Walker, Sen. Roger Victory of Georgetown Township and Sen. Michael Webber of Rochester Hills.
“Affordable housing is a major concern in every senator’s district throughout our state, and this legislation will provide a tool and a first step to address that issue head-on,” Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), sponsor of SB 129, said prior to the vote.
Singh added that Michigan would be one of the first states in the country to enact such a program if signed into law.
As passed, SB 129 also included a provision allowing an individual homeowner to access a TIF plan for an individual home improvement project was stripped. One provision also eliminated was one that would have allowed for partial plan approvals. Officials testifying in committee on the legislation said these would have been very difficult for local governments to administer.
The cap on costs for administering brownfield plans would also be raised under the substitute.
Speaking in opposition prior to the votes on the bills was Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), who said there could be opportunities for abuse through the proposed expansion.
“One of my major concerns … is that the developer, for example, or a landlord, will use this money to improve their residence to improve their property and then turn around and then raise rent rates, making it yet more difficult for our low-income individuals to find housing,” Theis said. “They’d be doing it with the taxpayers’ help.”
Job Coalition Demands Great Lakes Tunnel Project Resume
Great Lakes Michigan Job Coalition urged the United States Army Corps of Engineers to get approval for the Great Lakes Tunnel that would surround the 70-year-old Line 5 pipeline, saying in statements Thursday the tunnel needs to be constructed sooner rather than later.
The Corps of Engineers decided to extend the federal permitting process for the tunnel, likely pushing construction to begin in 2026. Enbridge, the Canadian company in charge of Line 5, expressed its disappointment in the delay in a statement.
“While we are supportive of a thorough, comprehensive and carefully considered permitting process that ensures adequate opportunity for review and comment, we are disappointed with the extended timeline for a project of this scope,” Enbridge said. “The Great Lakes Tunnel Project covers only approximately four miles in length, will require no construction within the waters of the Straits, and is anticipated to impact less than one-quarter acre of wetlands. Enbridge submitted its application for the Great Lakes Tunnel Project to the USACE in April 2020. As such, the USACE (Corps of Engineers) is estimating it will need six years to review and issue a decision for the project.”
Those with the Great Lakes Job Coalition said the delay could lead to increased environmental issues down the line.
“Michigan voters, small businesses and leaders across the political spectrum support the Great Lakes Tunnel and want it built quickly,” said Brian Calley, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, in a statement. “The lack of urgency by the Army Corps of Engineers is a disservice to all Michiganders. Every month the project is delayed pushes this important economic and environmental investment down the line.”
Caroline Liethen, director of environmental and regulatory policy for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said in a statement the tunnel is not just a building project.
“It’s a lifeline for the Great Lakes and Michigan workers,” she said.
Business manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council Geno Alessandrini asked the Army Corp to help move the project along.
“Our members love the Great Lakes, and they love their jobs,” Alessandrini said. “The Great Lakes Tunnel would protect both. Instead of throwing up roadblocks, we’re asking the Army Corps to get these permits done.”
Whitmer Taps Boring as Next MDARD Director
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday the new director for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Timothy Boring, noting his experience in agriculture and knowledge of the agency.
“A sixth-generation family farmer from Stockbridge, Boring has held several high-level positions on leading agricultural associations, commissions, and committees,” Whitmer said. “At MDARD, I am confident that he will lead admirably, working to support farmers, grow Michigan’s mighty agricultural industry, protect our natural resources, and power rural economic development.”
In addition to operating his family’s farm in Stockbridge, Boring is the president and founder of the Michigan Agriculture Advancement, an organization that looks to alternative measures to rebuild soil health and diversify crop rotations. He also served as vice president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.
He will start his new role next week, a statement said.
“Tim has dedicated his career to serving Michigan agriculture and brings strong experience in government leadership to this critical role,” said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, in a statement. “Our industry appreciates the hard work of MDARD employees statewide to help grow our state’s economy, and I am confident Tim will provide excellent leadership across the Department’s many critical functions.”
Tom Zimnicki, Alliance for the Great Lakes agriculture and restoration policy director, said in a statement Boring has a proven track record of improving environmental outcomes for the state.
“We look forward to working with Tim and the Department on these critical issues in the coming years,” Zimnicki said.
For government roles, Boring was appointed to the state executive director position for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency by President Joe Biden’s administration in 2021. He was also appointed to the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development by Whitmer in 2019.
“We are delighted that Governor Whitmer has chosen Tim Boring to be the next Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development,” said Bob Thompson, president, Michigan Farmers Union, in a statement. “Boring is a proven leader who shares our values of supporting family farm operations, both traditional and nontraditional, and the communities in which they live.”
Boring said in his own statement that he was honored to have been selected for the role.
“There are tremendous opportunities ahead of us to make meaningful progress improving climate resiliency, water quality, rural economies, and access to safe and nutritious food, and I look forward to serving within the Whitmer administration to advance these priorities,” he said.
Kathy Angerer, the acting director of MDARD, will remain in the department’s leadership.
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