LANSING, Mich. (AP) — 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 Gretchen Whitmer outlined an agenda Wednesday that will prioritize enacting stricter gun laws, repealing outdated laws that restrict abortion and who one can marry and providing pre-K education for all 4-year-olds in the state.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, in her fifth State of the State speech, also pledged to help with rising costs through “immediate” tax relief, which she outlined in a three-tier plan that includes an increased earned income tax credit and repeal of the retirement tax.
The 51-year-old Democrat, who won reelection by nearly 11 percentage points last November, could see the majority of her agenda become a reality with Democrats taking full control of the state government for the first time in decades.
Addressing the full Legislature in the House chamber, Whitmer also called for gun control legislation that includes universal background checks, safe storage laws and “extreme risk protection orders” that are also known as “red flag” laws.
Whitmer made clear that she was “not talking about law-abiding citizens.” But she said that “despite pleas” from the families of a 2021 school shooting at Oxford High School in southeastern Michigan, “these issues never even got a hearing in the Legislature.”
“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over," Whitmer said. "It’s time for commonsense action to reduce gun violence in our communities.”
Following the speech, Senate Republican Leader Aric Nesbitt cautioned against any sweeping gun legislation, saying that the Legislature needed to “make sure to find a balance with any of this and protect the rights of the individual.”
The State of the State speech marked one of the first times that Whitmer has summarized specific legislation for the upcoming year, and Republicans have criticized the governor for not outlining a broader plan to help Michigan residents.
“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 pledged to continue fighting for “strong protections for our fundamental rights,” which comes after voters passed proposals to expand voting access and protect the right to abortion in the state’s constitution.
“I’ll go to any state that restricts people’s freedoms and win business and hardworking people from them. I’m looking at you, Ohio and Indiana,” Whitmer said.
Plans to help Michigan residents with rising costs were unveiled in Whitmer's “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.”
The full “Lowering MI Costs” proposal will also include 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.