Gov. Whitmer plans tax cuts, stricter gun laws, free Pre-K

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. ((AP Photo/Al Goldis))

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined an agenda Wednesday that will prioritize enacting stricter gun laws, repealing outdated laws that restrict abortion and who one can marry and providing pre-K education for all 4-year-olds in the state.

Whitmer presented her agenda in her fifth State of the State speech, which is her first since winning reelection. Her plan could become a reality with Democrats in full control of the state government for the first time in decades.

Addressing the full Legislature in the House chamber, Whitmer pledged to continue fighting for “strong protections for our fundamental rights,” which comes after voters passed proposals to expand voting and protect the right to abortion in the state's constitution.

She also called for the Legislature to enact stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and safe storage laws.

“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over. It’s time for commonsense action to reduce gun violence in our communities,” Whitmer said in prepared remarks.

The State of the State speech was one of the first times Whitmer has been able to summarize specific legislation for the upcoming year, and Republicans criticized the governor for not outlining a broader plan to help Michigan residents in anticipation of the speech.

“She’s got the House, the Senate and herself. Where is the roads plan? Where’s her infrastructure plan?” House Republican Leader Matt Hall told reporters. “Or are we only going to get from her a bunch of statements about new government programs that she wants to create?”

Michigan’s budget surplus is projected to reach $9.2 billion by next fall, with $4.1 billion in the school aid fund.

Whitmer also touted her “Lowering MI Costs” plan, which she says will save families an average of $10,000 by providing free pre-K for all 4-year-olds.

By providing pre-K to over 100,000 4-year-old children yearly, Whitmer would deliver on a promise she first made when running for governor in 2018. She said the plan, which will take four years to implement, will help “parents, especially moms, go back to work, and it will launch hundreds more preschool classrooms across Michigan, supporting thousands of jobs.”

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is now president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said in a statement that Whitmer's plan “will ensure that every 4-year-old in Michigan can get a free preschool education by the end of her second term.”

President Joe Biden and other Democrats attempted, and failed, in 2021 to include universal preschool — one of Biden’s campaign promises — for all states, including Michigan, in the $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” proposal.

The full “Lowering MI Costs” proposal will also included a previously announced repeal of the retirement tax and a significant increase of the state’s earned income tax credit.

While Whitmer and other Democratic leaders in the Legislature announced tax cut plans during a news conference Jan. 12, the extent of the relief is still being negotiated in the Legislature. The Senate Housing and Human Services Committee moved a bill Tuesday that would raise the Earned Income Tax Credit from a 6% match of the federal credit to 30% and would be retroactive to the 2022 tax year.

House Republicans also appear to be on board with the increased tax credit. State Rep. Bill G. Schuette of Midland said in a statement that he is “pleased" Senate Democrats amended the bill to be retroactive to the 2022 tax year.

Whitmer didn't specifically address the Senate Democrats' plan in her statement, but she said boosting the tax credit would “deliver an average combined refund of $3,000 to over 700,000 working families across Michigan.”

Following an event Tuesday in Lansing, Whitmer told reporters that her “first and foremost goal” was to undo the tax on retirees but said there is “a lot of discussion and negotiation” still needed.