October 1, 2023 7:53 pm

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Whitmer Centers Health, Energy, Economy and Democracy in ‘What’s Next’ Address

Credit: AP

by Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
August 30, 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday outlined her policy priorities for the rest of the year, highlighting public health, clean energy, economic health and democracy in her “What’s Next” address prior to the Legislature returning from summer break.

In January, Democrats took control of the Michigan House and Senate while retaining the governorship, holding a trifecta for the first time in 40 years. In the months that have followed, Democrats passed a number of priorities, including anti-gun violence policies, repealing the state’s retirement tax, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), axing the state’s 1931 ban on abortion and expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ+ people. 

Whitmer also signed the state’s bipartisan $57.4 billion state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024, and its $24.3 billion School Aid budget in July, providing funding for programs like free breakfast and lunch for all public school students.

“This is going to save families an average of $850 per child. Per child. That’s a lot of money,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in his speech at the event. “It ensures that kids can actually focus on learning rather than focusing on their bellies.”

Gilchrist touted other legislative victories including lowering the age for the Michigan Reconnect program from 25 to 21, expanding access to tuition free associate’s degrees and skill training to more than 350,000 additional Michiganders. He also noted progress in efforts like worker’s rights and investments into affordable housing and community revitalization.

During her speech, Whitmer noted successes in promoting economic growth and manufacturing within the state listing examples like semiconductor wafer production and the construction of battery plants all across the state as alongside projects to expand local housing and create commercial spaces for business.

“These new battery plants will be game changers, supporting thousands of families, uplifting local businesses and ensuring that our cities and towns thrive for decades to come,” Whitmer said. “They’ll help Michigan go toe-to-toe with China, bringing critical parts of the auto supply chain home. We must reduce our reliance on Chinese products which have caused work stoppages, shortages and car price hikes over the last few years.”

Whitmer also noted her administration’s $1.5 billion investment into public safety efforts including efforts to recruit and train police officers, provide resources for mental health and addiction treatment, saying this year’s budget expands those efforts by providing funding to buy new gear for firefighters and upgrading correctional facilities. 

Looking to the future, Whitmer called for the passage of the Reproductive Health Act in the fall, as the Advance reported earlier this week. Draft language for the bill includes repealing those building code requirements for abortion providers and repeals a law that mandates a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion, bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Advance on Monday. 

The draft legislation also planned to end Michigan’s current ban on health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) covering abortions unless the pregnancy endangers the life of the pregnant person. The final details of the bill will be announced when the bill is introduced, which Pohustky said would be “as soon as [lawmakers] get back” in September, following the Legislature’s break for the summer. 

Whitmer also called for continued efforts to lower the cost of health care within the state by codifying the policies in the ACA, including:

Protections for pre-existing conditions Permitting children to remain on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 Banning annual or lifetime caps, so you can’t hit a limit on the care you receive Requiring insurance plans to cover essential services like ambulance services, maternity care, mental health treatment and birth control

While Whitmer noted previous efforts to reduce drug costs, including the federal Inflation Reduction Act and three bills she signed in February intended to hold pharmacy benefit managers accountable, increase transparency and expand consumer choice for generic drugs, she called for continued action based on the findings of the state’s Prescription Drugs Task Force. 

“Let’s further lower the cost of prescription drugs by implementing the task force’s remaining recommendations like establishing an independent, nonpartisan prescription drug affordability board made up of leaders and economics, health care supply chain and academics,” Whitmer said. 

“We need to hold bad actors across the supply chain accountable for skyrocketing prices, while also encouraging [research and development] for new treatments and cures made right here in Michigan,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer also promoted policies focusing on the health of the planet, noting that the state does not have to choose between economic development and environmental protections. She called on the Legislature to enact a 100% clean energy standard alongside efforts to promote energy efficiency programs. 

“The cleanest, cheapest energy is energy we don’t use. Actions like sealing windows, upgrading appliances or wrapping your water heater reduce energy waste. It’s why our utilities prioritize efficiency. Together we can reduce energy waste to meet our clean energy goals and help Michiganders save money,” Whitmer said. 

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have each introduced legislation that would shift the state to 100% clean energy sources — that includes nuclear energy — by 2035. 

Whitmer also encouraged a move to permit clean energy projects through the Michigan Public Service Commission, rather than through municipalities. She pushed for policies to allow the commission — which regulates energy companies in the state — to consider climate and equity in its regulatory decisions. 

Implementing these clean energy policies would save Michigan families $5.5 billion and create 160,000 jobs and bring home $14.7 billion in federal dollars,  Whitmer said. 

 

Democratic lawmakers previously announced plans to center clean energy legislation in the fall in order to leverage federal dollars from the Inflation Act, but face a tight deadline of Sept. 26 if they hope to take advantage of Environmental Protection Agency funding that would increase access to solar energy for low-income communities.

However, Rep. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit), who proposed a bill that would provide rebates to individuals installing new solar energy and battery storage systems, said he’s “100% confident” that lawmakers would be able to meet deadlines for clean energy funding.

Whitmer also called for the expansion of paid family and medical leave, but was sparse on details for how this priority would be implemented.

“Right now, 77% of Michigan workers do not have access to paid family and medical leave. They deserve better,” Whitmer said. 

While addressing economic health, Whitmer said the state should work to streamline its permitting process for advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, housing and other projects.

During a panel at the Mackinac Policy Conference in May, Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) said he hoped lawmakers could find a bipartisan solution for the state’s permitting woes. 

“Over the last few years under the current administration it has become a lot tougher to get permits. I hear from private sector investors and businesses that have a real challenge of getting these permits in a timely fashion,” Nesbitt said. “My hope is that we can work together to find better certainty on some of these permits.”

In the final section of her speech, Whitmer called for the protection of democracy and voters, applauding her partners, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, for leading on these efforts while praising the passage of Proposal 2 of 2022, expanding voting access in Michigan.

However, Whitmer noted the state must shore up its election security, citing efforts to overturn the 2020 election where President Joe Biden was elected, and concerns of voter intimidation and threats to poll workers. 

“We cannot allow the will of the people to be tossed out or overturned and we can’t permit politicians to stay in office despite getting voted out. We must ensure that Michiganders are heard and respected,” she said.

Right now, 77% of Michigan workers do not have access to paid family and medical leave. They deserve better.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Following Whitmer’s speech, House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said the first six months of state policy accomplishments was only the beginning. 

“We accomplished a great deal in the first six months of the year — from cutting taxes for working families and seniors, to enacting commonsense gun violence prevention laws, to passing a budget that reinvests in our state. That was just the beginning. House Democrats are ready to work with the governor and will continue passing smart legislation that focuses on putting people first,” Tate said in a statement.

While Democratic lawmakers remained optimistic about Whitmer’s policy priorities following her speech, some Republicans criticized the governor’s priorities, saying they would result in higher costs for Michiganders. 

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) blasted the priorities outlined in Whitmer’s address in a statement, saying they would raise costs for Michiganders.

“This year, the Democrat majority has been consumed with an extreme agenda that is making life more expensive in our state, but even more costs on Michiganders are coming next,” Hall said. 

“In her speech, the governor called for a 100% clean energy standard on a tight timeline … the move will waste money to meet the premature deadlines and increase electricity costs for residents and local businesses,” Hall said.

Rep. Phil Green (R-Millington) offered similar criticism, pushing back against “Lansing-centric” solutions.

“So what I heard in today’s ‘What’s Next’ speech is ‘Lansing has the solutions,’” Green said. “I hear the exact opposite stories out where I’m at. I hear of elderly individuals that are absolutely scared and worried about, are they going to be able to pay their energy bills? And so now we’re looking at how can we do things, how can Lansing mandate things that are going to help.”

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