LANSING—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday addressed the Michigan House and Senate to announce plans and policies designed to bolster resources for public schools and children, provide tax relief for parents and families, expand civil rights protections in Michigan, and much (much) more.
And with Democrats having a historic majority in both chambers of the Legislature to kick off Whitmer’s second term, she was optimistic—if not downright positive—that her agenda for 2023 will quickly translate into legislation, and that Michiganders will see some significant financial relief as a result.
“We must work together to lower costs and put Michiganders on the path to a brighter future,” Whitmer said at this week’s State of the State address, her fifth since taking office. “Michiganders compete with an underdog spirit, and (we) carry ourselves with championship swagger. No challenge is too tough.”
Here are seven highlights from Whitmer’s speech, and details on how those plans could help Michigan:
1. Retirees and families will see some major tax relief.
Democratic lawmakers have already introduced a bill that will repeal the state’s retirement tax—which is estimated to save about 500,000 households an average of about $1,000 a year. The bill was introduced to the state House by Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) and is awaiting a hearing from the Committee on Tax Policy.
Senate Democrats have also proposed an expansion to the Working Families Tax Credit (formerly known as the Earned Income Tax Credit). That expanded tax break would translate to direct savings for about 740,000 workers, boosting the average tax credit from $150 to $750 for low-income families—enough to cover a full month of healthcare for a family of four, nine months of diapers, or 10 months of internet access. This bill, introduced by Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) passed in the Senate this week and is now heads to the House, where it’s expected to meet to be passed without a hitch.
2. All 4-year-old children will have access to free preschool.
In Michigan, parents who make $70,000 or less have access to state-funded preschool programs through the Great Start Readiness Program. On Wednesday, Whitmer announced plans to expand that access to every 4-year-old child in the state regardless of income within the next four years. Legislation is required to make the change—and the Democratic majority is expected to move quickly to put Whitmer’s plans in motion.
3. Michigan will be an economic powerhouse.
Whitmer announced the “Make it in Michigan” plan to bring more manufacturing and economic development opportunities into the state—specifically in clean energy, the automotive industry and computer chip production.
The program will leverage state funding and incentives to lure more companies to make long-term investments in Michigan—like the recent computer chip factory in Bay City and battery plants in Big Rapids, Grand Rapids and Van Buren Township, all of which have brought 13,000 new jobs to the state.
Whitmer, who recently attended the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said the goal of the program is to bring more good-paying, union jobs to Michigan—in turn, incentivizing more young people to stay in their home state, and encouraging more out-of-state residents to make Michigan their home.
4. Michigan will protect civil rights—and reproductive freedoms.
With Democrats in full control of state government, Whitmer put the spotlight on a bill making its way through the Legislature to repeal a dated (and unenforceable) statutory ban on abortions from 1931.
She also called on the Legislature to expand the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to shield against discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality. Bills to put those plans into motion have already been introduced—and they’ve since been referred to the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety and House Committee on Judiciary.
Whitmer also called on lawmakers to repeal a 1996 state law that bans the licensing and recognition of same-sex marriages, as well as a 2004 state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex unions. Same-sex marriage is officially protected in the US by a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, but the amendment would protect against any future reconsideration in the conservative-leaning US Supreme Court.
Repealing the statute can be done by a majority vote in the state Legislature. Repealing the constitutional amendment would require a three-fourths vote, or a majority approval from voters at the polls.
5. Michigan students—and teachers—will get a boost.
Through the Michigan Reconnect program, Michiganders ages 25 and up have access to a tuition-free associate’s degree or technical training. Whitmer’s latest plans call for lowering that age to 21—expanding affordable access to higher education (and better paying jobs) for about 542,000 residents.
Whitmer also proposed the “MI Kids Back on Track” program, which is designed to provide more state investments in tutoring programs at public schools—including salaries and background checks. The idea? Get Michigan’s students back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated learning losses.
And with Michigan dealing with some of the worst teacher shortages in the nation, Whitmer also wants to offer opportunities for student teachers to be paid for their classroom time as they earn their teaching degrees—in turn, expanding access to the profession for those who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
6. Common-sense gun reform is en route to Michigan.
In the wake of the shooting at Oxford High School that left four students dead, and an overall increase in gun violence, Michiganders have been calling for stricter gun control measures in the state. In the past, those reforms have stalled under Republican resistance. With Democratic leadership, the tide is shifting.
Whitmer is calling for lawmakers to enact three specific gun control measures—and to do so quickly. Among them: universal background checks, safe storage laws and extreme risk protection orders that would help prevent those who are deemed a harm to themselves or others from buying a firearm.
7. Whitmer is still fixin’ the damn roads—and more.
As federal dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law flow into Michigan, Whitmer said she wants to ensure more roads are repaired. But that federal funding can also be used to bolster clean energy, eliminate lead pipes in Michigan and boost high-speed internet connections—particularly in rural areas, she said. From 2019 to 2022, 16,680 lane miles of road and 1,200 bridges have been completely repaired. Michiganders can expect that infrastructure work to continue in Whitmer’s second term.
Many of these funding proposals have already found their way into bills that are making their way through the Legislature. Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), for example, introduced a bill that would ensure clean and affordable water be made available to everyone in the state. Still, many of the decisions on where to spend those federal dollars will be left up to the Michigan Infrastructure Office, which works with state government and partners with local officials to dole out money for infrastructure fixes.