Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for immediate tax relief to help Michiganians cope with rising prices and “commonsense” action to combat gun violence on Wednesday night in a speech that laid out her policy vision for the first year of her second term.
Whitmer, a Democrat who was reelected in November, used her fifth State of the State address to detail a three-part plan to help Michiganians cope with rising prices. But she also pressed the House and Senate, which are now under Democratic control, to ensure “the world our kids inherit is not more violent than the one we inhabit now.”
“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over,” Whitmer said, referencing the previous inaction by lawmakers to respond to mass shootings, including the 2021 killing of four students at Oxford High School.
The governor says policymakers should enact universal background check requirements for people who want to buy firearms, a safe storage standard for guns at home and “extreme risk” protection orders that allow guns to be taken away from people deemed a risk to themselves and others.
“And I want to be very clear — 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.”
Whitmer’s inflation-focused financial proposal featured a proposed cut in taxes on retirement income, an expanded tax credit for low-wage workers and an effort to ensure all 4-year-olds can attend preschool for free.
“My proposals tonight will tackle the challenges people are facing right now, make a real difference in their lives and make Michigan more competitive,” Whitmer said. “This is our future. But policies alone mean nothing — it’s about the people they impact.”
Addressing learning loss among students during the pandemic, Whitmer called on lawmakers to pass funding tutoring programs before they recess on March 23 for a two-week spring break. Details about Whitmer’s spending priorities will be laid out in the governor’s annual budget presentation to the Legislature in two weeks.
Whitmer’s speech opened with a video that features audio clips of Lions coach Dan Campbell addressing his upstart football team, which went 9-8 this season and narrowly missed the playoffs. Sound bites of Campbell’s pep talks are juxtaposed with images of Michigan workers.
Whitmer’s address before the Legislature was the first time she got to detail her agenda with Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate. The last time a Democrat began a year in the governor’s office with control in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature was 40 years ago.
However, Democrats have touted the need to work across the aisle and their majorities are narrow: 20-18 in the Senate and 56-54 in the House.
The intro video for Whitmer’s speech Wednesday ends with the text “We are one team. #MichiganGrit.”
In the coming year, the governor and lawmakers will have to decide how to respond to rising prices on groceries and other consumer goods while also determining how to handle a $9 billion financial surplus amid forecasts that a mild recession is looming.
The governor has been championing two tax proposals: one would decrease taxes on retirement income by about $500 million a year and another would boost a tax credit that benefits low-wage workers, saving them about $400 million a year.
Senate Democrats have begun advancing bills on both subjects. On Tuesday, a Senate committee approved the proposal to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit from 6% of the federal credit to 30%, helping an estimated 700,000 families.
On Wednesday, another Senate committee approved the retirement bill, which would undo tax changes that were put in place by former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, in 2011. The new legislation would bring back an exemption from the income tax for public pensions and would increase deductions for other forms of retirement income that were previously cut.
Originally, the Democratic bill would have been phased in gradually over four years. But Sen. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, said he expected a revision would be coming to make the proposal take full effect this year.
“Ultimately, this bill keeps a promise to our seniors,” Hertel said Wednesday. “What you were told you would earn in retirement is what you will earn.”
Democrats will likely have to work with Republicans in order for the tax law changes to take effect this year because such timing would require supermajority votes of support. GOP lawmakers, like Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, have been calling for quick and broad tax relief.
“The way that the Democrats have phrased this as a retirement tax, I reject that, because its something where its picking winners and losers that get specific forms of income when they retire,” Nesbitt said.
Whitmer also pushed Wednesday night for more resources for law enforcement and for making pre-kindergarten programs accessible for all 4-year-olds in the state. The governor has been working, since she was first elected in 2018, to expand early education opportunities in Michigan.
Whitmer’s State of the State address Wednesday is her first given in front of lawmakers in person since 2020.
The speech is historically delivered in the state House chambers in front of a joint session of the Legislature, but Whitmer took a two-year hiatus from that venue after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.