Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
- Whitmer Proposes $5.6B COVID Recovery Plan to Aid Biz, Schools
- Going Pro Talent Fund Awards $39M in Grants to Train 30K MI Workers
- Dems Choose Koleszar as Whip, Anthony as Caucus Chair
- Whitmer K-12 Supplemental Funding Details Released
- Report Includes Several Recs for Racial Equity in Cannabis Industry
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing adding $575 million in state funds to about $5 billion in federal coronavirus relief in a supplemental appropriation aiding K-12 schools, small businesses, and the state’s response to the virus.
Gov. Whitmer will formally send the bill request to the Legislature on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Gov. Whitmer outlined her proposal at a news briefing.
Among the major highlights:
- $2 billion in additional federal Food Assistance funds that will cover a 15% increase in those benefits as well as increased numbers of people using those benefits;
- About $2 billion for K-12 schools, $1.7 billion federal and $300 million in state school aid revenues;
- $660 million in federal aid for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, aiding persons struggling to pay rent and utilities;
- $575 million in federal aid to support coronavirus testing and tracing, and $90 million in federal funds to administer, distribute and track vaccines; and
- $225 million in a variety of business relief measures.
The proposal also includes $5 million to pay for the enforcement of a yet-to-be-implemented ban on weapons at the Capitol. The Michigan State Capitol Commission recently banned the open carry of firearms in the building, but persons with a concealed pistol license can still bring a firearm into the building if it is concealed. These funds would pay for costs like metal detectors and the personal to operate them, though there is no indication the Republican leadership in the Legislature supports a full ban on firearms in the building.
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, issued a statement discouraging support for the program, saying it amounts to “handouts to large, politically connected companies” and a “slap in the face” to small businesses.
Another item in the proposal is $22 million so that businesses and residents unable to pay their summer 2020 property taxes can avoid interest and penalties if they pay by Feb. 26, 2021 (editor’s note: this article has been changed to use the correct date).
The proposal’s business aid measures include $125 million for a Michigan Mainstreet Initiative to help businesses survive the pandemic, $25 million for businesses with nine or fewer employees to assist them through the pandemic, and $75 million in additional grants to help businesses grow.
“Our small businesses are fixtures in our communities,” Gov. Whitmer said. “They’re working around the clock to stay afloat while trying to keep their communities safe from COVID-19, and they deserve as much support as we can give them.”
Gov. Whitmer also called for the Legislature to reauthorize a business incentive program that expired in 2020 known as the “Good Jobs for Michigan” law that enabled authorized businesses to capture state income taxes withheld from certified new employees in varying amounts depending on wage and the number of jobs created. Opposition in the Senate killed the legislation last year amid concerns it amount to government favoritism in the economy.
The Governor’s proposals immediately ran into criticism from the Republican-controlled Legislature. They have called for her to lift restrictions on businesses the Department of Health and Human Services imposed to slow the spread of the virus.
“Clearly there is a need to help struggling Michiganders, but I am disappointed the governor’s plan does not appear focused enough on getting help to where it is most needed effectively and efficiently,” said Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, in a statement. “I am already working with my colleagues in the Senate on the best way to help Michigan’s recovery from COVID-19, including the distribution of the latest installment of critical federal COVID relief funding. These resources must be used more effectively and responsibly than the Whitmer administration has done so far during this pandemic. I will not hand the governor a blank check to continue mismanaging our state’s response to COVID-19. She has a poor track record with the money she’s already had available and allocating more money without proper legislative oversight would be negligent.”
Albert said the state’s expense of funds for field hospitals early in the pandemic that went almost totally unused was an example of what he said was the administration’s bad track record. He also slammed the administration’s management of the unemployment benefits system, which has been wracked by fraud.
Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), chair of the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee, questioned the sincerity of Gov. Whitmer’s concern for small businesses.
“Small family businesses aren’t asking for her handouts; they simply want to open back up and earn a living. It’s what they were promised last summer,” he said in a statement. “After today, it’s clear that what the Governor wants for main street businesses has little relationship to what main street businesses want for themselves.”
Current DHHS orders prohibit dine-in at restaurants and bars, though they can offer takeout and drive-thru. Some businesses, such as water parks, night clubs, and strip clubs, remain ordered closed under DHHS orders.
All other employers can be open though many with capacity restrictions and others, like bowling alleys and movie theaters, cannot offer food and beverage.
Gov. Whitmer, asked about Republican opposition, objected to characterizing the state’s economy as closed and said she doubted Republicans would oppose passing the aid.
“I know that sometimes – especially in this political environment – that people want to draw firm lines,” she said. “I know that the Republican Legislature would never want to stand in the way of making sure that these federal dollars get to our kids’ schools. Or to our ability to build up our apparatus to get people vaccinated, our public health. I know that the Republican Legislature wouldn’t stand in the way of aid for businesses that are struggling right now. …The economy’s not been shut down. I know that there are unique parts of our economy that have struggled because of the nature of how this virus spreads.”
Budget Director Dave Massaron said the use of state funds to supplement the federal money for schools will allow all districts to receive help, not just those with greater Title I eligibility who benefit from federal aid. Under the plan, $1.5 billion would be distributed according to Title I while another $150 million in federal aid over which the state has discretion plus $300 million in state school aid would be allocated on a 50-50 split of per-pupil funding and based on the district’s special education and at-risk student populations.
Further details are expected Wednesday.
“It was really designed to get a balance of funding to school districts across the state,” Massaron said.
Gov. Whitmer has asked the state’s school districts to offer an in-person learning option by March 1 and many are moving in that direction if they do not already do so.
“This crucial action will provide our students and educators with the support they need as we return to in-person learning this spring,” she said.
School groups hailed the announcement.
“We continue to appreciate Gov. Whitmer’s leadership and recognition of the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on schools, students, and families,” said Mark Greathead, president of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, in a statement. “Providing schools an additional $330 per-pupil on average for this current academic year would represent a significant step forward in our efforts to move our students through this pandemic and begin their recovery, but we know much more will be required in both the months and years to come. We look forward to working with the legislature to not only move this plan forward, but to begin the work necessary to give our students that long-term support they both need and deserve.”
Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said in a statement that the funding should be swiftly approved so districts can begin making plans.
Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, and David Hecker, president of AFT-Michigan, praised the plan, particularly the emphasis on funding for special education and at-risk pupils.
Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, said the plan will help but also warned of the systemic needs in the state’s schools.
“The funds announced today will help Michigan meet student needs this school year and next, but systemic inequities remain,” she said in a statement. “By targeting resources to vulnerable student groups now and in the future, Michigan can make important headway in addressing systemic inequities, working to ensure they do not endure for another generation or more. State legislators and the governor should use this time to correct underlying funding inequities and ensure that the needs of every student, regardless of income, ability or English learner status, will be met over the long term.”
Going Pro Talent Fund Awards $39M in Grants to Train 30K MI Workers
More than $39 million in grants from the Going PRO Talent Fund will be used to employ nearly 30,000 workers at upwards of 850 Michigan businesses, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday.
The move furthers her Sixty by 30 initiative to see 60% of Michigan’s adult-age population equip with some sort of post-secondary degree or a skills certificate by 2030.
“Now more than ever, we need to invest in our talent and businesses to ensure strong economic recovery and growth,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “Programs like the Going PRO Talent Fund allow us to put Michiganders on the path to good-paying jobs while helping Michigan employers develop the critical talent they need to compete in the global economy.”
Bridgewater Interiors in Eaton County, and another Bridgewater Interiors located in Macomb County, each saw the largest grant funding allocation at $150,000 apiece.
TechSmith Corporation in Ingham County received the next largest allotment at $105,852.
An entire list of grant recipients and the amount they received can be found online.
“With 545,000 professional trades job openings expected through the year 2026, this fund plays a vital role in helping Michigan employers meet their talent needs by investing in homegrown workers,” said Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Acting Director Susan Corbin.
Since the program’s inception in 2014, more than 3,000 in-state businesses have received Talent Fund awards to assist in training, developing, and retaining newly hired or current employees.
Dems Choose Koleszar as Whip, Anthony as Caucus Chair
Rep. Matt Koleszar will serve as the House Democratic whip while Rep. Sarah Anthony will spend another term as caucus chair, a statement said Wednesday.
Anthony (D-Lansing) was also caucus chair last term. Koleszar (D-Plymouth) was an assistant minority leader.
“Rep. Koleszar is an experienced leader in the House Democratic Caucus, and as its elected whip, has the strength of relationships to ensure we focus on supporting policies that move Michigan through this pandemic,” House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) said in a statement. “Rep. Anthony’s return as House Democratic caucus chair is a clear statement on her strong leadership and her ability to unify our caucus as Michigan faces unprecedented challenges.”
Both Koleszar and Anthony are entering their second terms in the House.
Koleszar was a teacher before seeking office in 2018 and defeating a Republican in what had been a relatively reliable GOP district.
“I am honored to have been chosen by my Democratic colleagues to fulfill this role and I’m excited to take on this leadership opportunity,” he said in a statement. “Working together to put Michiganders first is and always has been my top priority and I’m looking forward to continuing that work as the House Democratic whip.”
Anthony is the first Black woman to represent Lansing in the House and a former Ingham County commissioner and legislative staffer.
“After a year unlike any other, my fellow House Democrats and I are looking forward to continuing our important work on behalf of hardworking Michiganders everywhere,” Anthony said. “I’m humbled to have been elected to serve as caucus chair for another term. I look forward to buckling down to pass legislation that uplifts working families and provides real economic relief for our state.”
Whitmer K-12 Supplemental Funding Details Released
Bill language outlining more details of a proposed supplemental appropriations for education was delivered to lawmakers late Wednesday afternoon, with a few more specifics on how recommended appropriations would be doled out to school districts.
Initial details of the education funding Tuesday were that $1.5 billion would be distributed according to Title I and another $150 million in federal aid over which the state has discretion and $300 million in state school aid funding would be directed on a 50-50 split of per-pupil funding and based on a school district’s special education and at-risk student populations.
The $5.6 billion overall proposal revealed Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the state’s coronavirus response included $5 billion in federal funding and about $575 million in state funds.
More specific language released Wednesday in the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 education supplemental called for total federal spending of more than $1.656 billion to K-12 schools to address the impact of COVID-19. Of that amount, $157.35 million-plus another $300 million in state school aid revenues will be disbursed to districts through a different formula than the usual proportionate share of Title I federal funding for districts based on levels of poverty.
Of that $457.35 million:
- $10 million would go to intermediate school districts, half based on the number of special education pupils in the district and the other half disbursed on an equal per-pupil basis with no ISD getting less than $25,000;
- Half of the remaining $447.35 million would be distributed to districts based on the number of special education pupils in each district in the 2020-21 school year;
- The other half would be distributed on an equal per-pupil basis with no district receiving less than $25,000; and
- $8.3 million would go toward the Department of Education for administration and oversight purposes.
Districts could use the funds for the same purposes permitted under the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
Unspent education funding would carry into the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Title I funding is provided to local education agencies for children from low-income families to help all children meet educational standards.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Standards states that there are four main grants through which Title I funds are allocated. Each of these grants use complex mathematical formulas based on the number of formula-eligible children and several other provisions to determine allocations.
Gov. Whitmer’s proposal on Tuesday was greeted by pushback from Republicans, including Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Earlier this month Albert suggested he could not see the Legislature having further discussions with the administration on allocating federal funds for the pandemic response until the remaining shuttered businesses including bars and restaurants were reopened.
Albert in a Tuesday statement said he was disappointed with the Governor’s plan, which he said he believed was not focused enough on getting assistance to the proper sources nor efficiently enough.
“I am already working with my colleagues in the Senate on the best way to help Michigan’s recovery from COVID-19, including the distribution of the latest installment of critical federal COVID relief funding,” Albert said. “These resources must be used more effectively and responsibly than the Whitmer administration has done so far during this pandemic. I will not hand the governor a blank check to continue mismanaging our state’s response to COVID-19. She has a poor track record with the money she’s already had available and allocating more money without proper legislative oversight would be negligent.”
The GOP-led Legislature has had to approve the spending of all federal and state funds related to the coronavirus thus far. In fact, besides the supplemental in December, budget-related bills were one consistent area where the Legislature and the administration appeared able to come to agreement in 2020.
Messages left Wednesday with Albert regarding the specifics of the Governor’s plan and what he meant by his work with senators on addressing the pandemic were not immediately returned.
Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said as of late Wednesday afternoon, he had not seen more specific details of Gov. Whitmer’s proposal.
“We look forward to seeing the details of her plan,” Stamas said.
Last week Stamas called on the Senate to reject Gov. Whitmer’s appointments to state boards and commissions in an effort to get her to reopen the remaining closed businesses and work more actively with lawmakers.
Stamas said he believes the public health aspect of the next supplemental is the top priority, especially funding for vaccination efforts as well as testing and contact tracing.
He said he could not commit to supporting Gov. Whitmer’s proposals on education “without seeing what she is proposing” in more detail. Stamas added that for him, education is probably in the top three priorities for him along with getting people back to work and public health.
The senator was unsure of the timeline for negotiating a supplemental but said it will likely be lengthy and that it will “not (be) a one-sided conversation” without significant legislative input.
OTHER SUPPLEMENTAL DETAILS: Along with several major proposals originally outlined in the supplemental, several smaller items not involving K-12 education or public health were included.
A total of $10 million General Fund was recommended for the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration for restaurants and the safe reopening of food service establishments.
Gov. Whitmer also proposed $6 million to provide wraparound services to Futures for Frontliners or Michigan Reconnect grant program recipients. These services would include on-campus child care as well as academic services including tutoring and career counseling.
Another $5 million General Fund was included for a pre-apprenticeship program to help connect the unemployed or underemployed with education or training for careers in the energy sector.
The bill also provides more than $1.08 million General Fund to create an Office of Rural Development within the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for grant opportunities in areas including rural broadband development, housing, infrastructure, and workforce development. One new full-time equivalent staff position would be created to oversee the program.
Report Includes Several Recs for Racial Equity in Cannabis Industry
A recently released report from the Marijuana Regulatory Agency contains more than a dozen recommendations, including rule changes to help increase racial equity in the state’s marijuana industry.
The report was produced by the agency’s Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup, which noted that as of December 2020, about 3.8% of licensed marijuana establishments in the state have ownership interests that include Black investors and 1.5% having ownership stakes that include Hispanic individuals.
For six months the workgroup studied the topic, with subcommittees looking at issues such as social justice, business development, and local equity.
“The MRA is committed to making Michigan the model agency in the country, including being a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the marijuana industry,” MRA Executive Director Andrew Brisbo said in a statement. “As the agency responsible for implementing and administering the laws governing commercial licensure, the MRA recognizes the importance of equity in opportunity for businesses operating in this newly legalized industry.”
One proposal was to create a new Class A marijuana microbusiness license that would expand the existing microbusiness license to allow for the growing of up to 300 plants rather than up to 150 plants, the purchase of mature plants from licensed growers and to use outside licensed processors.
These changes, the workgroup stated, would allow protection against crop failures, provide microbusinesses a continuous supply and protect licensees from issues with their processing systems. The proposed changes could also lower costs.
A crowdfunding platform called the Michigan Marijuana Market was also proposed for local investors and marijuana businesses located in what was referred to as disproportionately impacted communities. The platform would help promote entrepreneurship and local ownership.
The creation of an intra-licensee transaction tax was also recommended, as was reinstatement of the Medical Marijuana Excise Tax on provisioning center sales.
Michigan Cannabis Industry Association board member Anquinette Sarfoh in a statement said the group supports all of the recommendations except for the tax proposals.
“The MiCIA unequivocally opposes any tax increases on the retail and medical markets,” Sarfoh said. “We should be focusing on reducing costs and this proposal will only serve to drive patients to the illicit market. As a cannabis patient with multiple sclerosis, the idea of creating another financial barrier between patients and their medicine is abhorrent.”
Another recommendation was the creation of a Joint Venture Pathway Program and a Social Equity Employment to Ownership program. This would allow for social equity and other program applicants to work with corporate partners for the licensing, capitalization, and operational development of social equity businesses.
In the areas of education, it was recommended to mandate continuing education on cannabis studies for Public Health Code professionals. Under the recommendation, license owners, operators, and employees would be required to complete certification to obtain licensure and maintain competency through continuing education requirements.
Another educational recommendation was to create a manual and webinar for municipalities so local officials can learn about social equity programs.
The MRA under one recommendation would create more time for individuals to attend social equity presentations and create more bilingual content.
Integrating commercial marijuana businesses with local economic development agencies and land banks was also recommended.
Establishment of a social equity model under the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act was also recommended, as was the implementation of corporate spending plan requirements for licensees.
Also recommended was the allocation of funds from the Marijuana Registry Fund for social equity grants and the creation of a voluntary survey and data collection tool to identify barriers for existing licensees and prequalified applicants of color for both medical and adult-use marijuana licensing.
Other recommendations included improving the value of event organizer licenses and the creation of a licensee exit interview and annual assessment survey for social equity applicants. Having a Michigan version of state-based marijuana medical and clinical research pass the Legislature was recommended as well.