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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Michigan Gov. Whitmer pushes tax cuts, funding for early education in State of the State

With her party in control of the legislature and billions of dollars in the bank, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out a plan to cut taxes while expanding social programs in the first State of the State address of her second term.

“We might not be able to solve inflation or supply chain issues on our own, but we must work together to lower costs and put Michiganders on the path to a brighter future,” Whitmer said.

Related: After years of turmoil, Michigan Gov. Whitmer looks to shape an ambitious Democratic agenda

She cast Democrats’ sweeping victory last November as direction from Michiganders to tackle pocketbook issues, reduce education costs and build the workforce, but also touched on the social issues that drove that election: abortion, civil rights, infrastructure and climate change and, on top of it all, called on the legislature to strike outdated laws from the books.

The largest of the proposals, to establish universal free preschool for all four-year-olds in Michigan, a significant expansion of early childhood education and of her few topics in the speech that hasn’t been a major component of her reelection campaign.

“Every parent knows an early start is critical to their child’s future,” she said. “It’s why we read, talk, and sing to our babies, worry about finding a great child care provider, and have wait lists for great preschools.”

She called on the legislature to pass the expansion by their spring break, the first week of April.

It’s part of a broader series of educational spending Whitmer would like to see, which includes “investing in tutoring, after-school programs, and other learning supports gets children 1-on-1 time with a caring, qualified educator that they need to succeed.”

Whitmer’s address was also a victory lap of sorts for Whitmer’s first-term policy accomplishments, but also cast the moment as one where Michigan’s fortunes are looking up.

“Over the last 4 years, we’ve faced historic challenges and seen the visceral consequences of political division,” Whitmer said. But the prevailing take now seems to be that things will get worse. Fatalism is in vogue as people wonder aloud whether America’s best days are behind her. I reject that. We cannot mistake pessimism for intelligence. And we must never forget who we are.”

In a statement directly after the speech, House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Kalamazoo threw cold water on her proposals.

“The governor delivered nothing more than a stump speech, light on details and void of new ideas to deliver on the priorities of the people of Michigan,” she said. “After four years in office, Gov. Whitmer barely mentioned what used to be her signature issue. She still has no real plan to fix the roads.”

For many of items Whitmer outlined Wednesday night, Republicans had a similar policy they could cite that met Whitmer’s veto pen in her last term after passing a Republican-led legislature without consultation with the Governor’s office.

Whitmer also called on the new Democratic majorities to pass the major tax proposals already moving through their chambers, but in her speech detailed exactly how broad she’d like their impact to be.

The cut on retirement income should save half a million households $1,000 a year, she said, while she wants an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide 700,000 low-income families at least $3,000 a year.

Both were also key points of Whitmer’s last State of the State, when Republicans controlled the legislature.

The policies are also a test of how smoothly the new Democratic majorities can reach consensus on major policy goals, as Democrats have some distance between them on the particulars.

Related: Many Michiganders could see a tax cut next year. How and when is up in the air.

In many ways the speech is a prelude to the Governor’s budget recommendation, which will be provided in February and offer a detailed breakdown of the how Whitmer’s believes her priorities should be funded.

Policies aimed at reducing gun violence made Whitmer’s speech, as MLive previously reported.

Related: Whitmer to call for universal background checks, red flag law in State of the State

“I’m not talking about law-abiding citizens,” Whitmer said. “Hunters and responsible gun owners from both sides of the aisle know that we need to get these commonsense gun safety proposals across the finish line.”

Nevertheless, some Second Amendment groups have already vowed to aggressively fight the proposals.

Related: Education, climate change and the economy top Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s priorities for reelection bid

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