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Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate: 2023 ‘the most productive year’ ever

Joe Tate stands at a podium
Democrat Joe Tate, seen here in January, made history this year as the first African American to serve as Michigan House Speaker. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate argues Democrats passed historically consequential legislation in 2023
  • Despite stalling, Tate says prescription drug costs and statewide paid sick leave remain priorities for Democrats in 2024
  • Without majority votes to start the year, Tate anticipates a greater emphasis on bipartisanship

LANSING — The state Legislature adjourned early this year, but not before passing a suite of laws that House Speaker Joe Tate says rank among the most consequential “in Michigan’s history.”

The Detroit Democrat started the year by making history himself, as the first African American to serve in the powerful speaker post. 

And then he got to work with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Senate Democrats to pass gun control regulations, repeal a Republican Right-to-Work law and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income earners, among other things. 

That work came to an early end when House Democrats temporarily lost their voting majority when two members resigned after winning local mayoral races. They are expected to regain control next year after special elections on April 16 for the safely Democratic districts.

Related Q&As:

Bridge Michigan spoke with Tate following his first year as Michigan House Speaker. You’ll find excerpts below. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

Bridge: Democrats used their first political ‘trifecta’ in 40 years to pass a lot of significant legislation. What are you proudest of, personally?

Tate: We'll look back and say this is probably the most productive year we've ever seen. We can point to everything from (Earned Income Tax Credit) expansion, and killing the pension tax (on senior income), gun violence reduction, which was huge for us. And then retiring school debt in several communities across the state. Our focus on education with what we’ve been able to do with at-risk funding — we got that to almost a billion dollars, which is significant.


House Democrats won’t have a majority back until at least April 16, when the governor has scheduled special elections to fill two vacant seats. The Legislature also usually takes time off for fall elections. Will you have much time to legislate in 2024?

We’ll see. I think we still have several priorities that we need to accomplish, and I’m optimistic that we'll be able to get work done when we get back in January. I think there's an interest there. But like you said, when we do get into (20)24 there’s always that – elections bubbling up. … The plan is to prepare to continue the work. We have several items that are still on the floor. What you've seen from us, really, in terms of bipartisan work, you'll see a continuation of that in terms of what we want to do in that space in a bipartisan fashion … It’s important to me that we do hit the ground running. 

One item on the governor’s wish list that the Legislature did not get to was creating a statewide paid sick and family leave policy.  What's the holdup there? 

Conceptually, there is an appetite for it. When you dig in to the details … several questions have come up. Like, who's going to pay for it? What is that structure going to look like? As well as what is the infrastructure needed for that? Also, what other models do we see across the nation that can help inform that. We're still working through it.


What areas are you hoping to see meaningful policy action in next year?

Continuing to find ways to lower costs for families. I think we've done an excellent job around that with the (Earned Income Tax Credit) and pension tax repeal. I’d like to come back and continue to take a look at land value tax for Detroiters as well. Those kitchen table issues we can certainly continue to work on. We kind of started a little bit around taking a look at lowering prescription drug costs. …  And then also the budget is something that we'll continue to look at and how we're making investments for people across the state. 

Democrats are putting $500 million a year into the governor’s business business incentive fund. Do you see that as a key piece of economic development in Michigan? 

It's a piece of a larger puzzle. In addition to that, how are we making Michigan a more welcoming state? In the work that we do, how are we getting our workforce ready and prepared to do the work that we need to do? So I think that all ties in to competitiveness. …  Another one top of mind for me is childcare. That ties in the workforce as well too.  … Transportation is another one that comes to mind. It all kind of fits together when you're looking at growing our economy and bringing everyone along as we do that

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