Whitmer goes big with agenda for Democratic-controlled legislature

The Michigan governor is seeking to keep and attract young people with economic opportunities and welcoming laws.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) swung for the fences Wednesday night, detailing a broad program for attracting young people to the state and lowering costs for Michiganders as she laid out her agenda in the State of the State address.

She called for repealing a 1931 abortion ban and the 2004 gay marriage ban, as well as lowering the age for a free community-college program and sustainable funding for an economic development program.

Whitmer — emboldened by her comfortable re-election to a second term and Democrats controlling both chambers for the first time in 40 years — said that protecting “fundamental rights” and creating jobs would help bring young people to Michigan.

And in a nod to a possible run for president in 2024, she sought to contrast Michigan with states that she said have lost economic opportunities and youth in their populations.

“States with extreme laws are losing talent and investment because bigotry is bad for business,” Whitmer said. “We should build on our reputation as a welcoming beacon of opportunity where anyone can succeed.”

To help fund her agenda, the state is projected to have a nearly $10 billion budget surplus.

Along with attracting youth, Whitmer called for lowering costs for Michiganders by repealing a state retirement tax, boosting the Working Families Tax Credit and providing free pre-K for all 4-year-olds.

She also wants the legislature to pass gun-violence laws, including universal background checks, safe-storage laws, and extreme risk protection orders. That comes after a mass shooting in Oxford, Mich., north of Detroit, in November 2021.

In selling her youth package, Whitmer enumerated the companies she has attracted to the state, including a chipmaker in Bay City and battery plants in Big Rapids, Grand Rapids, and Van Buren Townships, which are estimated to create a total of 13,000 jobs.

To keep the state competitive, she wants funds for a “Make it in Michigan” program, which would allow the state to continue bringing businesses to the state.

Those businesses will need workers, and Whitmer wants an educated population to meet the demand. She called for lowering the age for participating in the Michigan Reconnect Program, which currently provides tuition-free education for Michiganders 25 years and older seeking their associate’s degree or skills certificate. She wants the age minimum to be lowered to 21.

She also wants the legislature to fund her one-on-one tutoring program, known as Get MI Kids Back on Track, and to continue to fund the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which was signed into law last year.

Abortion rights are a priority for Whitmer and the legislative Democrats because of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year overturning the right to an abortion. Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment in November codifying the right to abortion and other reproductive health care. But lawmakers also want to repeal their state’s 1931 law.

Democrats also want to repeal the 2004 state constitutional gay marriage ban out of concern that the court could overturn the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case, which legalized gay marriage.

On lowering costs, bills have already been introduced in the legislature to reinstate exemptions for pensions from state income taxes, and to raise the Working Families Tax Credit, formerly known as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Repealing the retirement tax would save 500,000 households an average of $1,000 a year, according to Whitmer. Raising the tax credit would provide an average refund of at least $3,000 to 700,000 families.

Free pre-K is estimated to save families about $10,000 a year and helps parents re-enter the workforce.

“Together, we can lower costs for Michiganders feeling the pain of inflation right now,” Whitmer said. “For our seniors, families, and kids, let’s get this done.”