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Michigan council hears bold (if vague) ideas to solve population crisis

people sit around a table
The council and workgroup representatives met in person, but public access was limited to a virtual webinar. (Screenshot)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s population council heard recommendations Thursday on how to grow the state’s population
  • Groups focused on infrastructure, education and the economy
  • Groups did not provide cost estimates for their recommendations

Providing free college tuition and more equitable school and transportation funding systems topped the list of recommendations presented Thursday to a panel of Michigan power brokers tasked by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with solving the state’s population crisis.

But the recommendations from members of four workgroups that were each assigned to find ways that Michigan can attract young people to the state and convince Michiganders to stay were short on details. They also drew criticism from Republicans who felt the process has been overly partisan and could lead to higher taxes.

"I'm really disgusted with how they acted. I'm not happy at all," said economist Patrick Anderson, who served on a workgroup assigned to make recommendations related to education. 

Anderson, a Republican, called the workgroup process a "charade," telling Bridge Michigan that from his point of view, the recommendations didn't represent diverse points of view and were heavily influenced by consultants.

Whitmer announced the Growing Michigan Together Council in a prominent speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference earlier this year and tasked the group with issuing a report and recommendations by Dec. 1.

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To give the Council bipartisan authority, she named Republican businessman John Rakolta and Democratic education leader Shirley Stancato as chairs. But some Republicans have been critical of the effort since its inception. 

Rakolta defended the council Thursday evening to Bridge Michigan saying the Thursday presentations were to help the Council gather ideas. The council will deliberate before making recommendations to the governor. 

“They are just ideas presented to the council to take under consideration,” he said, adding that the council is at the “beginning of a long process.”

The Growing Michigan Together Council has a tough task: Michigan remains the 10th most populous state in the nation, with about 10 million residents, but it has ranked 49th out of 50 for population growth since 1990.

Michigan’s sluggish population trends are contributing to real-time consequences for employers in a slew of industries desperate for workers. Employers have worker shortages and the state has the lowest labor force participation rate in the Midwest. State employment data projections also show Michigan job growth flatlining through 2030.

Related:

Experts say Michigan lags other states in jobs, earnings, health, educational achievement, public services and other metrics that help attract and retain residents. Michigan’s population is also trending older as more young adults migrate out of state. The council’s meeting in Lansing Thursday was closed to the public but the public could watch the meeting and the workgroup recommendations using Zoom. You can view the presentation slides for each workgroup here

The council’s meeting in Lansing Thursday was closed to the public but the public could watch the meeting and the workgroup recommendations using Zoom. You can view the presentation slides for each workgroup here

The four workgroups that presented to the council each had a different focus area. They were PreK-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and talent. These were some of their recommendations:

Higher Education: 

  • A K-14 system in which all Michigan students would have the option to attend two years of community college or a public university for free. The group did not offer a cost estimate for what could be a very expensive proposal.
  • Making completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or an opt-out form a high school graduation requirement. State Sen. Darrin Camilleri, D-Trenton, who sits on the council, has proposed a bill that would do the same thing.
  • A system to “support, formalize, and grow employer partnerships” to expose students to job experiences for school credit and/or pay. 
  • Incentives for recent graduates to seek employment and live in Michigan.
higher ed recommendations
The Higher Education workgroup issued recommendations aimed to increase college enrollment, improve graduation rates and provide students with on-the-job experiences. (Screenshot)

PreK-12 Education: 

  • A more cohesive statewide K-12 education system that’s less fragmented than the state’s current system. 
  • A school system that’s “fully, equitably, efficiently, and transparently” funded.
prek-12 recommendations
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s population council heard presentations from different workgroups on how to bring more people to Michigan. The PreK-12 workgroup offered four vague recommendations. (Screenshot)

Talent

  • An expansion of workforce development programs with additional incentives to attract young people from other states. 
  • A “stronger pipeline of international talent” with policies and programs that support immigration, as well as increasing access to and affordability of family support resources like childcare. 

Infrastructure

  • A revision of the state’s existing transportation funding model to “sufficiently fund and maintain the road network” and support development of a more robust transit system. 
  • An investment in new and redeveloped housing stock.
  • Better water infrastructure that prioritizes public health and climate preparedness. 

What happens next? 

Workgroup members hailed from across the state and included former lawmakers, labor leaders, business owners, educators, nonprofit officials and at least one current student: Emily Hoyumpa, president of the Associated Students of Michigan State University.

Whitmer’s executive directive creating the council lays out an ambitious schedule for the population growth commission, which must finalize an initial report and recommendations by Dec. 1. 

House Republican Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, predicted the costly suggestions would lead to calls for tax hikes, which he argued could deter population growth.

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“Raising taxes in our state and making life less affordable will push people away and intensify our population decline,” Hall said. 

The council will deliberate the recommendations this month and then move into public listening sessions in November.

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