Whitmer State of the State 2024: Did she meet last year's goals?
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2024 State of the State address is 7 p.m. Wednesday
- In 2023, Whitmer benefited from outright Democratic majorities in both chambers, but current House tie complicates 2024 plans
- Whitmer scored big on some issues, while others came with heavy edits
This story has been updated to clarify funding information for the state’s free Pre-K program.
Backed by a Democratic legislative majority, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was able to check off most of the top priorities she outlined in her 2023 State of the State address — but on issues like abortion and economic development, it wasn’t a complete slam dunk.
Ahead of Whitmer’s 2024 State of the State address set for 7 p.m. Wednesday in Lansing, Bridge Michigan analyzed the governor’s top priorities from last year to see how her ideas fared.
Whitmer last year sought gun control measures, approval of programs to reduce taxes for low-income workers and seniors, expansions of legal rights for LGBTQ residents and those seeking abortions and universal preschool for 4-year-olds.
She didn’t get everything she wanted through the Legislature, but she got quite a bit of it. In 2023, Whitmer benefited heavily from having a slim Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, who were largely receptive to the governor’s wish list — so much so that the governor offered a bonus slate of priorities in the fall.
With the House now tied between Democrats and Republicans and an election cycle underway, the dynamics will be different this year. To get a bill passed and on her desk, Whitmer at minimum will need the support of one House Republican, at least until special elections in two Democratic-leaning Southeast Michigan districts are held.
We’ll hear more about what Whitmer hopes to accomplish in 2024 during her State of the State address on Wednesday night. Here’s a look at how the governor’s 2023 priorities fared:
Make headway on gun reforms: Yes
The goal: Whitmer sought ‘commonsense’ gun control measures, arguing: “The time for only thoughts and prayers is over.”
What happened: Buoyed by activism after the Oxford and Michigan State University school shootings, Democrats made quick work of proposed gun reform legislation long championed by gun control advocates.
Two months after a mass shooting at Michigan State University, Whitmer signed laws at the campus requiring gun owners to securely store their firearms and establishing universal background checks for gun purchases. A month later, Whitmer signed related “red flag” legislation allowing court orders to prevent people posing a risk to themselves or others from possessing a gun.
Later in 2023, Whitmer signed laws banning convicted domestic abusers from owning guns for eight years. Over objections from Republicans, the Michigan Capitol Commission also banned everyone except lawmakers from carrying guns into the state Capitol building.
- Whitmer signs gun safe storage, background checks; House OKs ‘red flag’
- Michigan Capitol Commission bans guns, but exempts lawmakers from rule
- New Michigan laws ban domestic abusers from owning guns for eight years
Targeted tax relief: Yes
The goal: Calling it her “Lowering MI Costs” plan, Whitmer proposed reversing two tax code changes made by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, by repealing the so-called “retirement tax” and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, which she redubbed the Working Families Tax Credit.
What happened: Whitmer signed her tax relief plan into law less than two months later. The administration estimates 500,000 older Michiganders will save an average of $1,000 from repeal of the retirement tax. About 700,000 lower-income households are expected to save an average of $600 from expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The legislative process was quick, but not without drama. Republicans might have backed the legislation on its own but ended up blasting the final product because Whitmer declined to extend a temporary cut in the state’s income tax rate that had been triggered by soaring revenues. Republicans even took that fight to court – arguing the broader income tax cut should have been permanent – but have so far lost the legal battle.
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs Michigan tax relief, minus $180 checks
- Lawsuit: Michigan’s $714 million income tax cut should be permanent
- Michigan taxes to fall for seniors, low-income earners. How much will you save?
Repeal abortion restrictions: Incomplete
The goal: Whitmer wanted a repeal of “politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions” on abortion and sought to improve abortion access with the Reproductive Health Act.
What happened: Whitmer and legislative Democrats successfully repealed old laws on the books banning abortion last spring after they were nullified by the November 2022 passage of Proposal 3, a constitutional amendment codifying abortion rights.
The Reproductive Health Act was a heavier lift, and sponsors had to make big concessions to get the bills through the Legislature after Republicans and Democratic state Rep. Karen Whitsett of Detroit opposed plans to eliminate a 24-hour waiting period between abortion consultations and procedures and allow government-run Medicaid insurance to pay for abortions.
The final version repealed various abortion clinic regulations and a 2015 law that required women to purchase a separate insurance “rider” if they wanted their policy to cover abortion.
- Gov. Whitmer signs repeal of Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban
- Whitmer signs pared-down abortion access bills in Michigan
- ‘Watered-down’ version of bills repealing abortion restrictions head to Whitmer
- Michigan House axes some abortion limits; can’t get votes to end 24-hour wait
Expand LGBTQ rights: Yes
The goal: Whitmer called for expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act “so you can’t be fired or evicted because of who you are or how you identify” and making the state more friendly to LGBTQ residents.
What happened: A decades-long fight to include anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents in state law came to fruition in 2023.
When the law takes effect next month, employers won’t be able to fire or refuse to hire a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and landlords or real estate agents cannot refuse to rent or sell a property to a person on those grounds. Businesses will also be barred from denying goods or services to LGBTQ patrons.
Whitmer and legislative Democrats also successfully made Michigan the 22nd state to ban conversion therapy for minors, a practice that researchers, experts and LGBTQ advocates say increases the risk of mental health issues and suicide attempts among LGBTQ youths.
- Whitmer signs anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents in Michigan into law
- Historic day for LGBTQ rights, as anti-discrimination bill goes to Whitmer
- Michigan set to become 22nd state to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youths
Election reforms: Yes
The goal: Whitmer vowed to work with new Democratic majorities in the Legislature to “expand voting rights, protect election workers” and build on a 2022 law meant to make it easier to vote for overseas military members and their families.
What happened: Whitmer in May signed a new law allowing clerks to count overseas military absentee ballots for up to six days after an election as long as they were postmarked prior.
In July, the governor signed another package to formally implement a voter-approved ballot proposal that wrote new voting rights into the Michigan Constitution, including up to nine days of early in-person voting and pre-paid absentee ballot applications.
And Whitmer capped the effort in late-November by signing bills to criminalize poll worker intimidation, regulate political ads that use artificial intelligence and tighten the election certification process that former President Donald Trump tried to disrupt following his 2020 loss.
- Whitmer signs Michigan election law overhaul that aims to prevent ‘chaos’
- Michigan lawmakers OK early voting, conversion therapy ban, Juneteenth holiday
‘Fix the damn roads:’ Incomplete
The goal: In her 2023 speech, Whitmer returned to her 2018 campaign promise by vowing to “continue finding ways to keep fixing the damn roads.” Beyond fixes, she also proposed building “the most innovative transportation system in the country” with new “smart road technology.”
What happened: The damn roads are not yet fixed, and Whitmer didn't do much to change that last year. The budget she signed in July boosted total state transportation funding by about $500 million, but $118 million of that was to pay off debt, and her own population council later reported that the state needs another $3.9 billion each year to really fix the problem.
The governor has expressed interest in — but not yet committed to — more aggressive ideas to overhaul the state’s road funding scheme, such as moving to a miles-driven tax or turning some highways into toll roads.
- Michigan Democrats in no rush to prioritize ‘fixing the damn roads’
- Michigan eyes miles-traveled charge for roads as EVs cut into fuel tax
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer open to charging tolls on Michigan roads
Economic development: Incomplete
The goal: Whitmer sought a “sustainable funding source for our economic development efforts” in her last State of the State speech, promoting her “Make it in Michigan” plan as a vehicle for attracting new jobs to the state.
What happened: Whitmer secured long-term funding for the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund early in 2023, and the state has struck a handful of deals with electric vehicle battery plants.
But the efforts have faced pushback amid concerns that few guardrails exist for companies benefiting from billions of dollars in benefits, and some Democratic lawmakers are pushing for legislation to rein in the SOAR program and ensure companies are creating the high-paying jobs they promise.
- Gov. Whitmer’s SOAR incentive fund, once a triumph, now faces headwinds
- Ford puts brakes on $3.5B BlueOval Battery Park in Marshall
Universal preschool: Making progress
The goal: Whitmer asked lawmakers to create a universal preschool program by expanding the Great Start Readiness Program to cover all 4-year-old children in the state within the next four years, about 110,000 kids.
What happened: Making the program universal is an idea Whitmer first proposed in 2019, but one she now hopes to achieve with the state’s new Democratic-controlled Legislature. Families could save an average of $10,000 a year in child care costs, she previously said.
The Legislature allocated an additional $90.9 million to increase the amount per student, expand student eligibility based on household income, allow programs to expand the days and weeks of programming and increase student transportation.
The legislature also deposited $200 million into a new reserve fund that can be used if costs exceed initial appropriation.
The Michigan Department of Education previously oversaw the Great Start Readiness Program. Whitmer moved the program to her new education agency called the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential.
- Gretchen Whitmer wants free preschool for all. But is Michigan ready?
- What is Michigan’s free pre-K program for 4-year-olds? Q+A with an expert
- Whitmer wants universal pre-K. Are there enough teachers?
- State-funded preschool: Winner for parents, financial loser for schools
- Tulsa study, praising long-term value of preschool
- Vanderbilt study, impact of gains from preschool may fade
More money for child care: Yes
The goal: Whitmer also called for increasing the number of families getting a state subsidy for child care.
What happened: State data shows a marked increase in the number of children getting the subsidy.
But not all of that help occurred in 2023; lawmakers in 2021 and 2022 poured money into child care by lowering eligibility levels — Michigan was once one of the stingiest in the nation — and increasing funding.
Economists said it was one of the best ways to help employers because it would allow more people to return to the workforce. The jump has helped explain a boost in the state’s labor force participation rate, which has risen steadily since February 2023.
Now, 62.2 percent of working-age adults are in the labor force — either holding jobs or looking for one. The state’s rate is no longer the worst in the Great Lakes region (thanks, Ohio) and it is the closest it’s been to the national rate (62.8%) since June 2020.
Roughly 209,000 more people were in the labor force in December, at just over 5 million, compared to January. The unemployment rate in December was 4.3 percent.
Free community college tuition: Incomplete
The goal: Whitmer asked lawmakers to help her expand her Michigan Reconnect program for tuition-free community college or skills training school by allowing residents as young as 21-years-old to qualify, down from the current 25-years-old minimum.
The Legislature approved a temporary expansion of Michigan Reconnect to students as young as 21 using $70 million of federal pandemic funds. Students aged 21 to 24 must apply to the Michigan program by Nov. 15.
- Michigan spread word on free college. But are residents listening?
- Tuition-free Michigan Reconnect program expands to 21 year olds. What to know
Clean energy: Yes
The goal: Whitmer said in her last State of the State speech that “it is our shared duty to face climate change head-on and protect our land and water.” She said the state should become “a hub of clean energy production” while creating jobs and lowering costs of clean energy.
What happened: The Democratic-led Legislature delivered to Whitmer bills that will require utilities to deliver 100 percent clean energy by 2040. Companion legislation will let state regulators override local decisions about where to allow large-scale wind and solar arrays.
Democrats hailed the legislation as a game-changer in the fight against climate change, but Republicans argued the new policies will raise energy rates for consumers and blasted the majority for trampling on the right of local communities to block developments they don’t want.
Last week, Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers gave opponents of the freshly-inked solar siting law the go-ahead to move forward with a proposed ballot initiative to repeal it.
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