Aug. 12, 2022 | This Week in Government: Let MI Kids Learn Submits Signatures; Brisbo Leaving Cannabis AgencyAugust 12, 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.
Let MI Kids Learn Submits Signatures, Hopes to Go Before Legislature This Year
Let MI Kids Learn, a ballot initiative supported by the DeVos family, submitted more than 520,000 signatures on Wednesday for an effort it aspires to have the Legislature enact rather than go to the ballot.
The campaign consists of two separate petitions, the first of which was submitted Wednesday, which would establish a scholarship program providing grants to students for education expenses, including tuition.
Eligible public school students would receive up to $500, and public school students with disabilities would receive up to $1,100. The petition also requires 90 percent of the annual public school per-pupil funding amount, currently $8,700 and set to rise to $9,150, for nonpublic school students.
The second would allow taxpayers contributing to the program to claim up to $500 in tax credits to contributions for education expenses. The annual maximum would start at $500 million.
At a press conference Wednesday, supporters of the initiative highlighted the scholarships’ other possible uses.
“These scholarships can be used for tutoring, transportation, tuition, mental health support, special need therapies, skilled trades training, and the list goes on and on,” said Amanda Hawkins, communication coordinator for the campaign.
“These petitions are going to open the door of potential for families all over the state from shore to shore from the up down to the southern border,” she said. “These signatures represent Michiganders who want your voice heard on education. They, like all of us here behind this podium, want more options and resources for students and their families to use for education.”
Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), a supporter of the initiative, claimed students have lost trillions in earning potential due to “COVID learning loss.”
“This is going to help our children,” she said. “They’re going to be able to compete on the world stage. And the parents are the ones who are being given the power to help their children.”
After the event, Theis said that she disagreed with the characterization that the program may amount to taxpayer dollars going towards private or religious schools.
“We need new and out of the box thinking in order to help our children catch up,” she said. “And the people who are the most fundamentally hurt by this are not the wealthy parents – they can write a check to get to take their kid to Sylvan, whatever they need to do. It’s the people who are at risk, it’s the kids who are at risk that need the support.”
Various groups and politicians quickly released statements in support of or lambasting the proposal.
Lavora Barnes, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said that the initiative weakens Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ability to “protect our children from private interests.”
“Betsy DeVos and her cronies are attempting to dismantle public education and reduce the resources for dedicated teachers who serve in the best interest of our children every day,” Barnes said. “Michigan children deserve a well-funded public education, and any effort to divert public school funding for private interests is unacceptable.”
Casandra Ulbrich, president of the State Board of Education and spokesperson with For MI Kids, For Our Schools, a coalition formed in opposition to Let MI Kids Learn, spoke against the initiative in a statement.
“Betsy DeVos’ dangerous school voucher plan will guarantee less funding for local public schools across the state,” she said. “Our local schools are struggling with an educator shortage and a lack of mental health resources for our kids. This voucher proposal will only make the situation worse by taking away hundreds of millions of dollars every year from our local schools and giving the funding to for-profit private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers.”
“This proposal is bad for Michigan students, parents and the future of our entire state,” Ulbrich said. She also said that the campaign is using a “loophole” to have the measure voted on by the legislature instead of the 2024 general election ballot – the campaign has officially acknowledged that this is their planned course of action.
The Great Lakes Education Project, a DeVos-funded group, said the campaign showed the state’s “grassroots support for empowering parents and helping students learn.”
Beth DeShone, GLEP executive director, said students need instruction tailored toward their needs.
“GLEP is excited about any resource that allows students to access the school, services, and tools necessary to meet their individual learning needs, and we encourage the Legislature to take action on this proposal as soon as it is certified and presented to them,” DeShone said.
The submission comes after a tumultuous summer for petition-related activities in Michigan after a counterfeit signature scheme rocked the Republican gubernatorial race and caused Secure MI Vote, another GOP-backed initiative, to delay submission in June.
Since the campaign submitted signatures well past the June 1 deadline for this year’s ballot initiatives, it will be considered in the 2024 election cycle or by the Legislature if recommended for certification by the Bureau of Elections.
Unlock Michigan, a ballot initiative in 2020 that went before the Legislature, submitted their signatures in Oct. 2021. The measure was recommended for certification in April 2021.
Still, Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for the campaign, said in a statement, “We’re looking forward to our initiative being swiftly canvassed by the Bureau of Elections and promptly certified by the Board of State Canvassers,” and that there is “plenty of time” for the Legislature to enact the proposals before the end of the year.
Brisbo Leaving Cannabis Agency
Cannabis Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo, a consistent figure in Michigan’s sometimes tumultuous marijuana industry, is leaving after more than five years of leading the charge while the state’s market saw significant changes.
It is unclear why Brisbo is leaving the post he has held across two administrations where he has seen praise from those on many different sides. He has worked with the Legislature and stakeholders without much drama.
Brisbo will head the Bureau of Construction Codes starting next month. His departure was first reported by The Detroit News.
Bobby Leddy, spokesperson for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said Brisbo is moving on to lead another area within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs but did not respond to a question asking if Brisbo left on his own accord.
“We are proud of the incredible team at the Cannabis Regulatory Agency for establishing Michigan as one of the top cannabis markets in the country,” Brisbo said. “Over the last few years, the industry has experienced rapid growth with the creation of over 20,000 well-paying jobs and the generation of $500 million in tax revenue. We look forward to continuing to work with Director Brisbo in the agency until he transitions to his new leadership role at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs later next month. We will begin looking to fill the position so that the agency can continue the high-quality work for which they are known.”
During his tenure, Brisbo first oversaw the medical marijuana program, which included a licensing board that often clashed with individuals who sought licenses. Later, marijuana was legalized for adults over 21. The board was also abolished, and the agency itself was in charge of licensing.
Brisbo oversaw that transition, and his social media feeds showed a regulator who often was on the road visiting licensees.
Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, said her members were shocked and disappointed to learn about the leadership change at the agency.
“We want to thank Director Brisbo for his commitment to our program, for his help building our industry and for doing an incredible job leading the agency,” she said.
The Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association praised Brisbo for his leadership but also emphasized a new director’s ability to ramp up enforcement of the illicit market.
“At the MCMA, we stand ready to partner with and support the Whitmer administration and the CRA’s new director in ramping-up enforcement in the regulated market to help ensure consumers have access to safe, quality product,” said Mark Fisk, MCMA co-executive director. “We look forward to supporting the new CRA director’s efforts to address Michigan’s massive illicit market, which poses an immediate threat to patients and consumers and threatens to destabilize the regulated market.”
There were some disagreements during Brisbo’s tenure, to be sure. One was a massive recall that was later reversed by the courts. Another involved legislation opposed by medical marijuana caregivers.
Peters, Stabenow Discuss Inflation Bill Benefits For MI
The U.S. Senate on Monday passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 – which includes $740 billion aimed at fighting climate change and inflation – with both U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow supporting the measure.
The pair discussed the benefits of the package Monday in a virtual press conference.
Stabenow (D-Lansing) said $440 billion of the $740-billlion package is aimed specifically at clean energy manufacturing and tackling the climate crisis.
“The great news is about $300 billion of what we raise from having the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share, goes to paying down the federal deficit,” Stabenow said.
Peters (D-Bloomfield Hills) said the bill makes sure the largest and most profitable companies in the U.S. can no longer take advantage of any loopholes, adding that there will be a 15 percent minimum tax for companies making more than $1 billion in profits, meaning they will have to pay taxes “like every other company, like every other individual in our country.”
The bill passed by the U.S. Senate caps Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 per year and for those who are diabetic; and caps out-of-pocket monthly insulin costs to $35. With Medicare negotiating the best price for people for their prescription drugs, Stabenow said they believe it will have an impact on the private sector pricing as well.
As far as addressing climate, the bill includes a production tax credit and a manufacturing tax credit for electric vehicles, and batteries and a production tax credit for solar panels.
“We’re going to be able to build a supply chain around those efforts in mid-Michigan and create …thousands of jobs. Overall, the bill is estimated to create nine million jobs and we know that thousands of those will be coming to Michigan,” Stabenow said.
Supporting farmers and foresters deal with carbon pollution by keeping carbon in the ground creates healthier soil and tackles the climate crisis, she added, estimating that this, along with other initiatives in the bill, will reduce emissions by 40 percent eight years from now.
A reporter asked the senators how this bill would specifically affect inflation, noting that the bill lowers the cost of living in some areas but not all.
Stabenow first said inflation occurred because the global pandemic shut down the international supply chain and subsequently shut down the economy in Michigan. She said there is a mismatch between what people need, what they’re buying, and what’s being made or what’s being sold.
“We see there’s not enough competition in meat processing and so we’re now supporting smaller meat processing operations and regional operations and looking at other ways to deal with the supply chain,” she said. “There’s a lot of those pieces, but don’t underestimate the fact that one of the biggest drivers has been the increase in gas prices and the ongoing cost on prescription drugs.”
Peters added that, particularly for the grocery stores, there are additional costs because of fuel costs due to transporting the food. Reducing this cost, he says, will bring down inflation.
The federal deficit is also anticipated to be brought down by $300 billion. Peters said by definition, this is an inflation reduction technique.
SFA: July Revenues $275M Above Forecast
Revenues to the General and School Aid funds continue to exceed expectations, with July totals showing tax collection to the General Fund $133.8 million above the forecast and to the School Aid Fund $141.2 million above the forecast, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.
As a result, fiscal year-to-date collections to the General Fund are now $479 million above the level set at the May Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. The School Aid Fund’s fiscal year-to-date collections are $169.5 million above the level forecast.
The sales tax was a big driver of the above forecast revenues for May. Collections for the month totaled $1.024 billion, up 15.6 percent from July 2021 and the second-highest month of sales tax collections ever. They were $102.5 million above the forecast. Sales tax collections from vehicle sales were $122.9 million, now the 16th time in the last 17 months that such collections topped $100 million.
Use tax collections were $252.8 million, the fourth highest ever, and $26.9 million above the forecast.
Net income tax revenue totaled $966 million for the month, a 10.7 percent increase from July 2021 and $83.4 million above the forecasted level. Of that $83.4 million, $48.5 million was the result of lower individual income tax refunds than expected. The SFA said this reflects that many of the anticipated refunds associated with the flow-through entity tax have yet to be filed.
Combined business tax collection from the Single Business Tax, Michigan Business Tax, and the Corporate Income Tax totaled $146.4 million for the month and were $19.1 million above the forecast. Fiscal year-to-date business tax collections are now 40.4 percent above the level in July 2021.
Lottery revenue to the School Aid Fund hit $139.3 million, $39.6 million above the forecast and the third-highest month on record. The SFA attributed that to the recent $1 billion-plus Mega Millions jackpot.
Real estate transfer tax collections hit a record high of $66.1 million, up 30.1 percent from July 2021 and $21.3 million above the forecast.
Technical Problems, Community Support Led to Recount in 34th
The Republican primary for the 34th House District was one of the closest races across the state, with Sen. Dale Zorn narrowly beating his opponent Ryan Rank, a retired firefighter and paramedic from Adrian, by fewer than 10 votes.
Over the weekend, Rank requested a recount for the race, despite his initial hesitancy.
Last week, Rank said he would wait for the county to certify its results before deciding whether to request a recount, but he changed his mind and filed paperwork on Saturday after learning about some technical issues in a few Lenawee County townships.
“One tabulator jammed up in Fairfield Township. They had to send it back to the manufacturer to have a ballot removed, and I knew Madison Township had issues with one of their tabulators,” he said.
Lenawee County Clerk Roxann Holloway confirmed that there were a few issues on election night and said that the state would be overseeing the recount because the contest relates to a state-level position.
“We’re trying to be transparent and do the best job that we can to make sure that every qualified voter gets to vote and every vote counts,” she said.
After election night, seven votes appeared to separate Rank from Zorn (R-Onsted), but now that gap has grown to eight following the county Board of Canvassers certification of election results.
The senator won 4,775 votes of the 11,955 ballots cast, and Rank won 4,767, according to Lenawee County’s official election results.
Rank also said that the outpouring of support from people in the community influenced his decision to ask for a recount.
“People really wanted to see a recount,” he said. “So, my team decided that we were not going to wait for the county certification. … I just want to make sure that it’s a fair election and that the people get their voice heard.”
In an interview on Aug. 3, Zorn said he wasn’t worried about a recount given the accuracy of the voting system.
“Mr. Rank has every right to ask,” he said then.
Although Holloway said voter turnout was typical for an Aug. primary in Lenawee County, Rank said he was disappointed by the number of people who participated in the election.
“It’s important for people to understand that every vote counts,” Rank said. “Voting is one of the most important things that we can do to have our voice heard.”
Lenawee County completed its canvassing Wednesday evening and is waiting for the state to complete its certification process so that the recount can begin.
The Board of State Canvassers is next scheduled to meet Friday, Aug. 19.
Once the recount gets underway, it will include 39 Lenawee County voting precincts and 12 absentee boards.
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