Michigan lawmakers discuss 2024 policy goals after Whitmer’s State of the State address ⋆

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address on Wednesday likened some of the things her administration did in the last year to songs that have stood the test of time, leaving a mark on future generations.

But who’s dancing along?

State Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) seemed to share Whitmer’s vibe following the address, saying she’s especially interested in the governor’s call to offer free pre-K for every 4-year-old in the state, as well as ensuring two years of free community college for all high school graduates.

“There aren’t very many jobs now that you can really build a career around without that post-secondary education [or] some sort of credential,” Brinks said. “Those first two years, making that just a normal part of a student’s educational career will make a huge difference.”

From pre-K to Social Security, Brinks said Senate Democrats are looking at avenues to support economic development for Michiganders and making sure their basic needs are met. Supporting those who are caring for loved ones, which can be a costly endeavor, is a high priority, Brinks said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State speech, Jan. 24, 2024 | Anna Liz Nichols

Whitmer proposed a $5,000 tax credit for caregivers during her speech, saying if people can write off some of the expenses they incur while caring for loved ones outside of long term facilities, it will support families. 

But much of what Whitmer and the Democratic majority in Michigan advocates for could drive away new residents to Michigan while the state is trying to attract talent and businesses, House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) said after the speech.

Whitmer doesn’t have a plan for economic growth or improving education, Hall said.

“I didn’t hear that from her, but what I did hear were a lot more ideas for spending,” Hall said. “They’re coming forward with all these new spending plans. You’re going to have to raise taxes to do that.”

Michigan fiscal agencies said at this month’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference that revenue forecasts are up since May 2023 for both of Michigan’s main spending accounts, the General Fund and School Aid Fund.

As far as helping families navigate rising inflation, Rep. Bill G. Schuette (R-Midland) called attention to his family affordability package that has gained some bipartisan sponsorship. 

“We’re committed to working on anything that actually makes Michigan more competitive as a state, anything that will fundamentally make our state a more affordable place to do business and raise a family,” Schuette said of Republican lawmakers. “If the governor is willing to come to the table with those types of proposals, we’re willing to work with her. But … rattling off ‘80’s songs is not going to actually solve the problems facing our state.”

Rep. Bill G. Schuette (R-Midland) takes questions from reporters following the 2024 State of the State Address. | Kyle Davidson

Republicans have been asking for bipartisanship since Democrats took the majority in both the House and the Senate starting in 2023. But with two Democratic House members winning mayoral elections last year, the House is left with a 54-54 tie, although Democrats maintain leadership. But at least until those seats are filled after a special general election in April, House Democrats will have to ensure Republicans willing to vote with them to pass bills.

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said after Whitmer’s speech that there will be opportunities for bipartisanship over the next few months.

“We [Democrats] are going to be at 56-54 back again, shortly after the special elections,” Tate said. “But I think we want to continue the work of bipartisanship that we’ve done — the majority of the bills that we passed in 2023 were bipartisan. I think we can continue that work into 2024.” 

During the three months that the Michigan state House has a 54-54 partisan tie, Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) said he hopes Democrats use this time to embrace bipartisanship.

“Let’s sit down with a bipartisan group and work on these tough issues on education, infrastructure, transportation and growing our state’s economy,” Nesbitt said.

It’s not the “sexiest issue,” but Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) does have plans to secure “a win” for folks across the aisle: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform. For years, government transparency legislation, specifically to make the governor and legislature subject to FOIA, has been a bipartisan effort. But efforts stalled when Republicans controlled the Senate.

Coasters at a Michigan Republican leaders media roundtable before the governor’s State of the State on Jan. 24, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

It may not be a kitchen-table issue, Moss said, but ultimately citizens’ ability to access information about their governance will increase transparency in governmental bodies and go a long way to establishing trust in government.

“We had to work on really pressing priorities at the start of the year, the people who elected us to deliver on gun safety and tax relief and protection of fundamental rights. And I’m glad that those were the priorities in 2023,” Moss said. “But now kicking off the year, you’re gonna see a lot of action on government transparency and other ethics reforms.”

Whether people live in urban or rural areas, or are Republicans or Democrats, Michiganders are struggling to find affordable housing amidst the rising cost of living and increased rents.

Affordable housing was a key issue at the Northern Michigan Policy Conference last week where Whitmer and political leaders from different cities and political affiliations agreed that the need is critical, especially for rural communities facing limited stock in real estate and growing mortgage rates.

Whitmer called attention to Michigan’s dated housing stock in need of updating to hit safety standards saying Michigan has to invest in renovating old buildings and constructing new units. Whitmer said the goal is building 75,000 new or refurbished units in five years so that fewer people shell out half their paycheck in rent.

Although the governor and Democrats have some work to do to flesh out their plans for infrastructure and education, Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City) said he supports calling attention to housing, especially for his Up North constituents.

“I’m gonna continue to yell and scream … about northern Michigan. Absolutely, we can work on things on housing in particular. I think it’s great,” Roth said.

Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) after the 2024 State of the State Address. | Kyle Davidson

Reps. Carrie Rheingans (D-Ann Arbor) and Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) are leading efforts to try and curb growing housing costs, agreeing with the governor that “the rent is too damn high.”

Rheingans said she’ll be pushing efforts to make local governments examine issues on a local level, calling attention to her bill introduced last year to allow municipalities to cap rent increases.

Dievendorf has focused a lot of her legislative efforts towards addressing homelessness and has supported bills like Rheingans’ legislation as a part of a conceived multi-bill package referred to as a “Renter’s Bill of Rights.” 

“I could not be more thrilled with the governor’s message on housing,” Dievendorf said. “We absolutely need to be building more affordable and middle-income housing and we are doing that. But addressing homelessness in housing really does go beyond shelter and getting to the root of making sure that folks have their basic needs addressed and that we’re removing obstacles to housing.”

Advance contributor Lily Guiney contributed to this story.

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authored by Anna Liz Nichols
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