Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her sixth State of the State address to outline her administration’s legislative agenda for 2024—and it’s all about cutting costs for Michiganders.
LANSING—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on lawmakers to help her lower costs for Michiganders’ and “make life more affordable” during her sixth annual State of the State speech this week.
After all, the governor can’t singlehandedly “solve” global inflation, she said.
“No one person can—not even the president,” Whitmer said during the Wednesday night speech. “If you meet someone who says they have a secret plan to fix inflation—run.”
Instead, Whitmer wants lawmakers to take a more practical approach to help Michiganders.
“When your paycheck hits your bank account, you know your largest and most important expenses: housing, child care, transportation, education, utilities, and food,” Whitmer said. “Things are headed in the right direction. … Still, Michiganders need more breathing room.”
Here’s the deal:
The legislative goals outlined in Whitmer’s speech were focused almost exclusively on cutting costs for Michiganders—including increased investments in education through initiatives such as free community college for all high school graduates and free preschool for 4-year-olds.
Among the other big-ticket items on Whitmer’s to-do list: A new state investment of over $1 billion to build or rehabilitate housing across Michigan, as well as a tax credit of up to $5,000 for caregiving expenses—including for counseling, transportation, and respite care.
“We will build a Michigan where if you get knocked down, you have the support you need to get back up,” she said. “Lowering costs on the biggest items in your budget, improving education so kids can thrive, ensuring you can make it no matter who you are or what you’ve been through.”
Here’s a quick recap of some of the biggest news from Whitmer’s speech:
Community College for All
Whitmer called on lawmakers to work together to fund the first two years of community college for every high school graduate in Michigan—a plan that she estimates will save Michigan students an average of $4,000 as they work to earn an associate’s degree or skills certificate.
The goal, Whitmer explained, is to help more Michiganders land “better-paying, high-skill” jobs in a “career they love.” It also aligns with the Whitmer administration’s broader “Sixty by 30” goal of having 60% of working-age adults in Michigan earn a postsecondary education by 2030.
“The most frequent concern I hear from business owners is the need for employees who possess a degree or certificate,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We’re not just lowering education costs by an average of $4,000, but also opening doors to endless opportunities.”
The new plan builds on the Michigan Reconnect program as well as the Michigan Achievement Scholarship—which already provides free tuition at community colleges to Michigan students who are 21 and older, as well as offers significant financial aid to eligible high school graduates.
“Education does not end after high school graduation,” Whitmer said. “Today, let’s go further. … We’re broadening our vision of education beyond K-12. Every single Michigander can count on a free public education from pre-K through community college. That’s the Michigan guarantee.”
Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, a teacher from Oakland County, issued a statement this week in response to Whitmer’s announcement on college funding:
“Whitmer again showed tonight why she’s the most pro public education governor Michigan has ever seen,” Madafferi said. “The governor’s plan to provide every student with universal free preschool and community college is an absolute game changer. It will transform our state’s education system, provide opportunities for every student—no matter their ZIP code.”
Free Preschool for All
Reviving a plan that was first introduced last year, Whitmer called on lawmakers to expand investments in public education to provide access to free pre-K for all 4-year-old Michiganders—a move that would save families with children an average of $10,000 a year, according to estimates.
“When we get this done, no matter who you are, where you come from, or how much you make, your child can enroll in pre-K and be set up for success,” Whitmer said. “Let this be a message to parents in other states—come to Michigan. We got your back every step of the way.”
Beyond the immediate cost savings, the initiative—which will require additional funding to be approved in the upcoming state budget—is geared toward improving literacy rates across the state and helping students build a “solid academic foundation” for long-term success.
Whitmer free preschool will also help attract more employers to Michigan by giving working parents more affordable options for their kids when they go to work.
Whitmer also recognized that Michigan is currently facing a housing crisis—with far too many families across the state spending more than half their income on their rent or mortgage.
“In other words, the rent is too damn high and we don’t have enough damn housing,” Whitmer said during Wednesday night’s address. “Our response will be simple: Build, baby, build.”
Among the latest plans: Make the largest investment to build housing in Michigan history by spending nearly $1.4 billion to build or rehabilitate nearly 10,000 homes statewide—including single-family homes, apartments, and mixed-use buildings—all to expand supply and lower costs.
“Housing is a serious challenge, so we are making a serious investment,” Whitmer said during the speech. “It’s about so much more than just a roof over your head. Housing builds generational wealth and forms the foundation for success in school, work, and life.”
Michigan’s first statewide housing plan, released in 2022, set a goal of building or rehabilitating 75,000 housing units over the next five years. Since Whitmer took office, the state has tracked 34,000units—which state officials said has supported more than 20,000 construction jobs.
New Tax Credits
Whitmer also announced a plan to roll out a new tax credit that covers caregiving expenses for Michiganders—including counseling, transportation, and nursing or respite services.
“I know how tiring caregiving can be, especially when you’re juggling a career and kids of your own,” Whitmer said. “When I was sandwiched between my newborn daughter and my mom who was dying from brain cancer, I was pushed to my limit despite having resources and help.”
According to statistics provided by Whitmer’s office, Michiganders with caregiving responsibilities balance their own lives and careers while spending an average of $7,000 out of pocket on related expenses—and even more if they’re women, especially women of color.
A new “family tax credit” would save thousands of families up to $5,000 off their taxes, allowing more seniors to age in place and supporting parents with long-term care needs, Whitmer said.
“A lot of people are concerned about how much it’ll take—or is taking—to care for aging parents, financially and emotionally,” she said. “By allowing people to write off caregiving expenses including counseling, transportation, and nursing or respite services, we can save them money.”
Fixin’ the Damn Roads
Whitmer also called on the Michigan Department of Transportation to authorize the final $700 million of the Rebuilding Michigan Plan—a five-year, $3.5 billion plan that has focused on fixing Michigan’s most economically critical roads while supporting over 45,000 jobs.
Since taking office, Whitmer’s administration has funded the reconstruction of more than 20,000 lane miles of road and 1,400 bridges, which has supported an estimated 118,000 jobs.
The latest projects include work along I-94 near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, I-696 from Southfield through Warren, and bridges in Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, and Erie Township.
“As we win all these projects, our infrastructure must keep up,” Whitmer said. “The Growing Michigan Together Council identified infrastructure as one of the ways to grow our population. That’s why we are fixing the damn roads, bridges, pipes, and everything in between.”
During her speech, Whitmer didn’t get into many specifics about how the programs and initiatives (like free preschool and community college) will be funded. Those proposals would require funding in the upcoming state budget, which must be approved by state lawmakers.
It also remains to be seen how soon the initiative will be brought before state lawmakers. The state House is deadlocked until special elections in April, and questions linger over potential bipartisanship. While the legislative session began on Jan. 10, few votes have occurred so far.
Democrats, however, are expected to win back their majority after the special elections are held on April 16, which would then allow them to begin pushing through their agenda in late April.
“Democrats will continue to serve our great state and get the job done, no matter what,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said in a statement after the speech.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
READ MORE: 10 big changes coming to Michigan in 2024
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