Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Democratic leaders on Thursday wasted no time outlining their highly anticipated priorities for the session, including tax cuts and repeal of right to work, after taking total control of state government for the first time in 40 years.
The agenda, first unveiled by the newly elected House and Senate leadership late Wednesday, will look to repeal a tax on retirees’ pensions, increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, expand anti-discrimination protections and restore a prevailing wage policy.
Democrats also introduced legislation to repeal the state’s controversial right to work law, setting up a potential fight both inside the legislature and outside of it. Thousands gathered outside the state Capitol in 2012 to protest after the Republican-controlled legislature approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees.
During a Thursday press conference at the Capitol, Whitmer and other Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Joe Tate and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, outlined tax cut proposals that would include gradually increasing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to a 30 percent match of the federal credit, compared with 6 percent currently.
“The No. 1 challenge that people are facing is the fact that things are so expensive,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said. “We have a responsibility to provide relief for rising costs and help people around the state of Michigan keep the money that they earn in their pockets.”
Republicans have already begun criticizing the planned tax cuts as not going far enough and saying Democrats didn’t work with them during the December lame duck session to implement these cuts, which now won’t go into effect until 2023 unless applied retroactively.
Republican House leader Matt Hall said Wednesday that the repeal of the state’s pension tax would primarily benefit people with public pensions and “a lot of seniors are going to be very surprised” when it doesn’t help them.
Aric Nesbitt, the Republicans’ leader in the state Senate, criticized the Democrat’s expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, which would primarily impact low-income working families, for not going far enough to help “all working families, instead of just a select few.”
For weeks, Whitmer, who won reelection by nearly 11 points in the midterms, has cautioned against widespread progressive changes after Democrats flipped the state House and Senate, telling reporters in December that she anticipated that “most of what we will do will continue to be bipartisan.” Democrats hold only a two-seat majority in both chambers, forcing them to be unified in any legislation they pass.
John Sellek, a Republican consultant in the state, said Democrats were wise to lead with tax cuts, their main promise on the campaign trail.
“There wasn’t a single ad about right to work. There wasn’t a single ad about prevailing wage,” Sellek said. “It was Democratic candidates, from the governor all the way down to the state senate races, saying, ‘We need to reduce spending and cut taxes and give money back to people who are suffering.’”
Whitmer will deliver her State of the State address Jan. 25 and is expected to provide a more outlined agenda going forward.