Gov. Whitmer Delivers Remarks Before U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today delivered remarks before a virtual hearing of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works entitled, “Building Back Better: Investing in Transportation while Addressing Climate Change, Improving Equity, and Fostering Economic Growth and Innovation.”

View the live stream: https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/

See below for the Governor’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

WRITTEN TESTIMONY
OF
Gretchen E. Whitmer
Governor, State of Michigan

HEARING ON

“Building Back Better: Investing in Transportation while Addressing Climate Change, Improving Equity, and Fostering Economic Growth and Innovation.”

Committee on Environment and Public Works

United States Senate
Feb. 24, 2021

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Capito, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to testify before this, your first legislative hearing of the 117th Congress. I am more than pleased to appear before you today about what’s possible if we work together to address issues head-on, and how a commitment to investing in transportation and leading on climate change and equity are pathways to economic growth and innovation, not only in my state, but also across the country.

Since taking office, my administration has been focused on taking bold action to build – and rebuild – a better Michigan. Our focus and investment on improving critical infrastructure has not waned during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, and I welcome all to the table, like this Committee and all our federal partners, who can help us achieve our goals.

Rebuilding Michigan

It is important for me as the “Fix-the-Damn-Roads Governor” to start by saying that we need significant investments in our roadways and bridges. Without this significant investment, we struggle to remain competitive for businesses and families. According to TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, a total of 43 percent of Michigan’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and driving on deteriorated roads costs Michigan motorists $4.67 billion a year – $659 per motorist – in the form of additional repairs, accelerated vehicle depreciation, increased fuel consumption, and tire wear.

At the start of my term, I unveiled a proposal to raise the state gas tax, which would have generated $2.5 billion a year to fix the state’s crumbling roads. Unfortunately, bipartisan consensus in Lansing could not be found to support it. Doing nothing isn’t an option for me, so that’s why I put forward “Plan B” – a $3.5 billion bonding program called “Rebuilding Michigan” to help rebuild the state highways and bridges that are critical to the economy and carry the most traffic. This is being done without raising taxes and will support thousands of good-paying jobs for our hardworking union construction workers in the state.

The first $800 million of the Rebuilding Michigan bond issuances closed last September. As a testament to the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) creditworthiness and our timing, that $800 million in principal generated $1.1 billion in bond proceeds. Investors paid a premium, acknowledging strong endorsements of ratings agencies. The investment strategy is aimed at fixes that result in longer useful life and improves the condition of the state’s busiest commercial and commuter corridors. Rebuilding Michigan allows MDOT to rebuild major segments of highly traveled interstates in Michigan, such as I-69, I-75, and I-94, as well as several other busy freeways. When all of the $3.5 billion in bonds are sold over the next few years, they will finance or help accelerate rebuilding or major rehabilitation of hundreds of major highway segments across the state.

To be sure local infrastructure needs are also addressed, I have put forward a plan to repair or rebuild hundreds of local bridges. Michigan has approximately 1,000 local bridges in poor or critical condition, many of which have load restrictions and 59 of which are completely closed because they are no longer safe for traffic. Closed bridges, whether in urban or rural areas of my state, not only adversely affect personal mobility, but they also slow our economic recovery by impeding the flow of agricultural products to market, raw materials like lumber to paper mills, and the movement of materials and products associated with our manufacturing industries. As part of my budget proposal to the Michigan State Legislature this year, I have requested approval of a supplemental budget authorization of $300 million of our state’s precious general funds to start chipping away at this backlog and reopen the closed bridges. Building off a successful local bridge bundling pilot project led by the MDOT, in collaboration with our county and city road agencies, this new investment by our state will make a measurable impact. But it is not enough.

Just as the State of Michigan seeks to be a good partner with our local road agencies, we also have sought to be an innovative partner in high profile projects of great promise. For example, we have partnered with Canada to deliver the Gordie Howe International Bridge project. Construction of the bridge – which will link Windsor and Detroit, Ontario and Michigan, and Canada and the United States – is well underway. The Gordie Howe International Bridge will greatly enhance the flow of commerce throughout our entire region and, in particular, with Canada, our most important trading partner; Michigan exports nearly $25 billion in goods to Canada annually, representing 41 percent of the state’s total goods exports. Making this state-of-the-art international border crossing a reality requires a collaborative effort with another government and many other stakeholders. We have a good record of forming successful partnerships to achieve shared goals, but we need focused, long-term, and sustainable funding sources for continued progress on the infrastructure front. The status quo cannot be an option.

Investing in Tomorrow, Today

For too long, there has been a misconception that you can either have environmental protections and public health safeguards or economic growth and good-paying jobs. This is not a binary choice. In fact, the health of our economy is inextricably linked to the health of our people and our planet. This can be a challenge, but we can manage it if we work together.

In industrial states like Michigan, we have seen the loss of jobs to automation, modernization, and market changes. But our economy is vibrant. Michigan is not just the auto capital of the world, we’re the advanced mobility leader. Since I was sworn into office, I’ve announced more than 11,400 new good-paying auto jobs. We’ve also committed to decarbonizing the state economy-wide by 2050 – and for the state that put the world of wheels – that means aggressively advancing the future of mobility and electrification. Mobility solutions are climate solutions.

Transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution in America. Focusing on electric trucks, buses, and cars – and the batteries that will propel them – will create jobs for the future, clean the air, and help us compete with Europe and China in this rapidly expanding market. Michigan is leading the way in this work.

My state is home to the richest cluster of engineering talent in the country and has the world’s most diverse collection of autonomous vehicle testing environments, such as the American Center for Mobility, for both early- and later-stage technologies. Assets like these have helped us attract billions in new investments to fund innovative mobility projects, leading to new technologies being developed and deployed in our state and expanding on our traditional strength in the automotive sector. For example, Michigan is developing a first-of-its-kind, 40-mile driverless vehicle lane between Detroit and Ann Arbor, is working towards building an electric vehicle charging network that connects the entire state by 2030, and has the largest deployment of a Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications network in the world, covering over 500 miles of roadway.

We must work together, not just to fix our failing infrastructure, but to modernize it in ways that leverages new technologies, transforms communities, balances the safety of all users, and facilitates the transformation to connected, autonomous, shared, and electric vehicles. We can lead the world on autonomous and electric vehicles, or we follow. Investing in needed infrastructure will play a critical role in making us – our country – a winner in this space. This is our moment.

Federal Support for States

To effectively rebuild our infrastructure while concurrently supporting our economic growth, states need a supportive and productive partnership with our Federal Government.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Michigan’s transportation revenues. Our state lost 7.4 percent of expected state Michigan Transportation Fund revenue in fiscal year 2020 and anticipates it will lose another 5.1 and 4.8 percent in revenue in both fiscal year 2021 and 2022, respectively. Michigan, like so many states, desperately needs federal assistance to support its transportation and infrastructure goals and needs.

That is why it is imperative for Congress to enact a timely reauthorization of long-term federal surface transportation legislation with funding that is both predictable and sustainable. Funding stability provided by federal transportation programs is crucial for Michigan’s extensive capital investment needs, the needs which take multiple years to plan and construct, especially during a time of financial duress. Short-term program extensions are damaging because they can cause unnecessary program disruptions and delay essential safety and mobility benefits to Michigan communities.

A key feature of reauthorization should be shoring up and stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund. Now how to get there has been debated for years as we all know, and I am not before you today with the answer, but we know that for too long, the Trust Fund has been kept artificially solvent by the transfer of general funds. While often necessary and helpful to stave off crisis, that is not sound budgeting or good policy.

As a governor who has been forced to transfer general funds to Michigan roads to prevent further decline, I understand these pressures firsthand.

As you look to craft your reauthorization bill this year, I would ask you to support bold action to reduce carbon pollution from transportation and prepare our transportation system for climate change impacts that are unavoidable. We welcome efforts that can incentivize climate mitigation and resilience in formula and competitive grant funding and support the full transition to electric. With domestic automakers in my state pledging billions to develop and sell more electric vehicles in the coming years, the effort made by this Committee in 2019 to create new competitive grants for alternative fuel infrastructure – a $1 billion program for states and localities to build alternative fueling infrastructure along designated highway corridors – is especially relevant, important, and needed.

As mentioned above, it is tremendously important to incentivize resilience in transportation investments so that the impacts of climate change can be better weathered. Congress should expand infrastructure betterment eligibility, which would make it easier for states to incorporate resilient design and infrastructure materials when using Emergency Relief funds after natural disasters. A federally declared flooding disaster event last year washed area roads and two dams in mid-Michigan, causing immense damage and strife as the state was in the middle of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. An expansion of betterment eligibility would allow us to, as we rebuild, improve the resilience of Michigan’s infrastructure against future extreme weather events.

Vision for the Future

When talking about investing in transportation, we need a national vision that invests in innovative transportation ideas and needs across our country, much like the Interstate system did 65 years ago, and makes us the envy of the world.

In order to make our economy more equitable for workers and address issues like climate change head-on, we need your help. We need to ensure that these transitions are equitable, and that policies to protect workers and communities are put in place early so we can stop them from being left behind or displaced. This includes workforce investment to ensure the workforce of tomorrow is prepared for a changing transportation sector.

In Michigan, we have recognized that we need more skilled workers, which is why I launched the 60×30 initiative, setting the goal of having 60 percent of Michigan’s workforce obtain a post-high school degree or certificate for an in-demand skill by 2030. We welcome Federal Government support to help us achieve this goal by providing funding for critical workforce and education initiatives. Last year, we announced the Future for Frontliners program, a scholarship program for Michiganders without college degrees who worked in essential industries during the state COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. The program will provide these frontline workers with tuition-free access to local community college to pursue an associate degree or a skills certificate, either full-time or part-time while they work.

Additionally, our innovative post-secondary programs in Michigan, such as Michigan Reconnect, provides a tuition free pathway to a two-year degree for adults over 25, and the Going Pro Talent Fund helps employers train and place workers into high skill jobs.

With bold policy direction and a commitment to sufficiently invest in our future at the federal level – be it transforming fleets to include more electric vehicles or investing in emerging technologies and critical supply chains here at home as examples – states can respond and help the Federal Government implement a bold, modern infrastructure foundation upon which our nation’s economy can grow and flourish for decades to come, and all the while, support a commitment to improving the environment and lives of our citizens.

Conclusion

My state has earned several names or expressions over the years. We are the birthplace of Motown. We put America on wheels. We were the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II. More recently, we became part of a nationwide arsenal of health as so many of our large and small manufacturers quickly shifted to make the masks, shields, and innovations our frontline heroes needed. Our manufacturing heritage brings us pride – ask anyone who has seen the long awaited COVID-19 vaccine depart the Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan.

The same holds for my state as an arsenal of ideas and innovation that welcomes federal leadership at this time to harness the moment — not shrink from it — to go big. Invest in the needed infrastructure and policies to address the reality and challenges of climate change and provide environmental justice to communities long underserved. Doing so will indeed build us all back better.

Let’s get to work.

Goldman, Ross join Plunkett Cooney’s Business Law Practice Group

Senior attorney Howard B. Goldman and associate attorney Glenn C. Ross recently joined the Business Transactions & Planning Practice Group of Plunkett Cooney, one of the Midwest’s oldest and largest full-service law firms.

A business attorney for over 30 years, Goldman focuses his practice on the representation of borrowers, lenders, landlords and tenants in all aspects of real estate transactions. He handles finance, sale-leaseback and commercial lease transactions, and he assists clients with the purchase and financing of commercial properties. Goldman also negotiates with lenders regarding COVID-19 and its impact on hospitality and retail properties.

Admitted to practice law in Michigan, Illinois and New York, Goldman received his law degree, cum laude, from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1985. He is a member of the Illinois and New York State bar associations and the Real Property Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. He also serves as the Michigan Chair of the American College of Mortgage Attorneys.

A member of the firm’s Bloomfield Hills office, Ross represents clients in the areas of business law and complex real estate and financial transactions. His practice includes matters related to general corporate law, commercial transactions and mergers and acquisitions.

In addition, Ross drafts and negotiates commercial, partnership, operating, shareholder, asset and stock purchase agreements, contracts, commercial leases, and financing documents in real estate development transactions.

Ross graduated, cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School in 2011 and received his undergraduate degree, with honors, from Michigan State University in 2005.

The members of Plunkett Cooney’s Business Transactions & Planning Practice Group represent a variety of clients with issues arising during each phase of the business lifecycle, including start up, growth, change in strategic goals, change in control and wind downs. Practice Group members also provide counsel and representation in such areas as securities law, corporate law, labor and employment law, commercial law, tax matters, succession planning, and regulatory and legislative issues.

Established in 1913, Plunkett Cooney is a leading provider of business and litigation services to clients in the private and public sectors. The firm employs approximately 150 attorneys in seven Michigan cities, Chicago, Illinois, Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. Plunkett Cooney has achieved the highest rating (AV) awarded by Martindale-Hubbell, a leading, international directory of law firms.

For more information about Howard Goldman and Glenn Ross joining Plunkett Cooney, contact the firm’s Director of Marketing and Business Development John Cornwell at (248) 901-4008; jcornwell@plunkettcooney.com.

– End –

Magna International to open facility, invest $70.1M in St. Clair

A division of Magna International plans to open a facility in the city of St. Clair to build battery enclosures for the 2022 GMC Hummer electric pickup, which will be produced at General Motors’ Factory Zero in Detroit and Hamtramck, according to the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The $70.1 million investment is expected to create 304 jobs, and was approved Tuesday for a $1.5 million Michigan Business Development Program grant, which is based on job creation targets, according to a briefing memo.

Magna, the largest auto supplier in North America and the No. 3 supplier globally, is planning to build a 345,000-square-foot facility at 1811 Range Road that can be expanded to 1 million square feet.

The Port Huron Times Herald said construction began at the site in December and production could begin next year. Magna is a Canadian company with its main U.S. office in Troy.

Whitmer cheered the news in a press release:

“This announcement reaffirms Michigan is transforming along with the automotive industry to ensure the next generation of mobility and electrification is designed, developed, tested, and built right here in our state.”

The wages for the new positions are to range from $17 per hour up to $48, with an average of $27, according to the memo.

The grant that was approved will “offset cost related to training, recruiting and construction that are higher in Michigan compared to competing locations,” the memo said, noting that Michigan, with 35 facilities, is the state with Magna’s largest U.S. footprint.

In addition to that support, “the City of St. Clair anticipates approval of a real property tax abatement in support of the project. The (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) also authorized a State Education Tax abatement to be used in conjunction with the locally approved abatement. St. Clair County Community College is also offering support of the project through the Michigan New Jobs Training Program,” the memo said.

View the original article.

Wright L. Lassiter III Leads Planning Committees, Gathers Medical Experts to Advise on 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference

Under the leadership of Mackinac Policy Conference Chair Wright L. Lassiter III, president and chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System, planning is underway for a 2021 event Monday, Sept. 20 to Thursday, Sept. 23 at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. In addition to the traditional planning committees, Lassiter assembled a clinical team of experts from Henry Ford Health System to advise the Chamber on new public health developments that could affect the Conference. The Chamber is also in regular communication with Gov. Whitmer’s office to ensure the Conference complies with the MI Safe Start Plan. The Conference will only take place if there is a high level of confidence among all advisors in gathering safely.

A Mackinac Policy Conference this year will look and feel differently than any other in the event’s history. The Chamber team is considering how to utilize venue space and changes to meal service and other elements of the attendee experience to ensure safety, compliance, and a strong comfort level among attendees. These changes will be communicated in early summer to help attendees prepare and plan for an adapted Conference experience.

The Chamber appreciates the support and partnership of our loyal Conference attendees, sponsors, vendors, Grand Hotel, and other Mackinac Island businesses.

David Lewis

David Lewis was named president of AT&T Michigan in March 2018. As president, Lewis is responsible for regulatory, legislative, and external affairs, as well as community and industry relations throughout the state of Michigan.

AT&T has more than 5,000 employees working and 13,000 retirees living in Michigan, and the company has invested nearly $1.4 billion in its best-in-class wired and wireless networks in Michigan between 2016 and 2018. 

Since assuming the state president role, Lewis has quickly become a leader in the Michigan community joining the boards of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Detroit Regional Chamber, Detroit Economic Club, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Walsh College. Lewis was also named a Michigan Chronicle Men of Excellence Honoree and as chairperson for the Salvation Army 2019 Red Kettle Campaign. 

In addition, Lewis spearheaded AT&T’s Believe Detroit initiative, a community and employee engagement initiative aimed at promoting educational opportunities, academic achievement, and a path to self-sufficiency for the Detroit community.  

Lewis joined AT&T in 2009 as Director of External and Corporate Affairs for the company’s operations in Indiana. In addition to his service to AT&T Indiana during that time, Lewis was a member of the Board of Directors for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Central Indiana, the Hispanic Business Council, Fort Wayne Urban League, and the NAACP state education committee. In 2003, Lewis was appointed as Indiana’s Clerk of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court, making him the 4th African American in the history of Indiana to serve as a statewide elected official and the second African American to serve as Clerk.  

Jay Farner

Jay Farner is chief executive officer of Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage, the nation’s largest mortgage lender. He is responsible for the leadership and growth of the company. 

Farner also serves as the chief executive officer of Rocket Companies (NYSE: RKT), a Detroit-based holding company consisting of tech-driven real estate, mortgage and financial services businesses – including Rocket Mortgage, Rocket Homes and Rocket Auto. Rocket Companies made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange in August 2020. 

Prior to becoming the chief executive officer of Rocket Mortgage, Jay was the company’s president and chief marketing officer, leveraging the synergies between marketing, business development, and mortgage origination operations. During this time, Quicken Loans launched Rocket Mortgage, the first fully online and on-demand mortgage experience. 

He joined Rock Financial – the company that would ultimately become Rocket Mortgage – in 1996 and quickly became one of the company’s top mortgage professionals. In early 1997, Farner was named a director of Mortgage Banking and played a significant role in training and development for Rock Financial. He was later promoted to vice president of Web Mortgage Banking and helped establish Quicken Loans as one the largest lenders in the country. 

Rocket Mortgage has been ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Primary Mortgage Origination” in the United States by J.D. Power for the past 11 years, from 2010 through 2020. the company has also ranked highest in the nation for client satisfaction among mortgage servicers by J.D. Power for seven consecutive years, from 2014 through 2020. 

Under Jay’s leadership, Quicken Loans has maintained its rank in the top 30 companies on Fortune magazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list – a position it has held for 17 consecutive years. 

Along with his work for Rocket Companies, Farner serves as an executive board member for Community Solutions, StockX, Shinola, the Metropolitan Detroit YMCA, and the Rocket Giving Fund. 

Farner earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Michigan State University and is a member of the 2011 Crain’s Detroit Business 40 under 40 class.

Over 40,000 apply for Michigan Reconnect in first two weeks

New state scholarship offers free tuition at in-district community colleges, provides deep discount for out-of-district students

LANSING, Mich.—In the two weeks since launch, over 40,000 Michiganders have submitted applications to take advantage of the Michigan Reconnect  program on their path to pursuing an associate degree or skills certificate though their local, in-district community college.

The new bipartisan initiative – one of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature accomplishments introduced in her first state of the state address – is a key tool to ensure 60% of Michiganders have a degree or post-secondary credential by 2030 to ultimately build a better Michigan. It is also the state’s largest effort in history to ensure Michiganders age 25 or older without a college degree have an opportunity to earn an associate degree or skills certificate.

Michigan Reconnect will also help address the dual challenges of the state’s widening talent gap and aging workforce. Michigan employers’ ability to find highly skilled and capable employees is more difficult than ever and is cited as a top concern in the most recent Michigan Future Business Index Report.

“Michigan Reconnect isn’t just smart for our state’s economy,” said Susan Corbin, acting director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. “It’s the right way to create pathways for Michigan workers – pathways to hope, pathways to equity and pathways to stronger families and communities.”

Initially, the state also offered up to $1.5 million in skills scholarships at private training schools. Less than 18 hours after applications opened on Feb. 2, more than 1,700 people applied for those dollars and the private training portion of the program had to be closed.

“The good news is that many community colleges offer skills certificates for high-demand careers in industries such as manufacturing, construction, information technology, healthcare or business management,” Corbin added. “Michiganders interested in a professional trades career can still take advantage of Michigan Reconnect by pursuing credentials through their community college.”

If students attend college in the district where they live, tuition is free. If they attend a college in a district where they don’t live, Reconnect pays the in-district part of the tuition and the student will only need to pay the remaining balance.

To be eligible for Michigan Reconnect, you must:

  • Be at least 25 years old when you apply
  • Have lived in Michigan for a year or more
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have not yet completed a college degree (associate or bachelor’s)

To discuss how Michigan Reconnect will help adults connect to high-demand careers – and how residents can take advantage of this opportunity, LEO is hosting a series of virtual news conferences through March featuring state lawmakers and workforce development, business and education partners:

  • Northern Michigan/Upper Peninsula – Monday, Feb. 22, 10:30-11 a.m.
  • Flint/Saginaw/Bay City/Midland – Monday, March 1, 10:30-11 a.m.
  • West Michigan – Monday, March 15, 10:30-11 a.m.
  • Detroit/Southeast Michigan – Monday, March 30, 10:30-11 a.m.

Eligible residents can learn more and apply for Michigan Reconnect at michigan.gov/Reconnect.

Detroit Regional Chamber COO Talks Restrengthening Business Community In The Detroit Area

Civic Center TV

February 19, 2021

Detroit Regional Chamber Chief Operating Officer, Tammy Carnrike, talks about the Chamber’s continued efforts to support and bolster the business community in Detroit and the metropolitan area, and discusses the Chamber’s helpful efforts in education, economic recovery and more.

View the original article.  

Feb. 19 | This Week in Government: PPE Sales Tax Exemption Progress; Restaurant Group Shares Reopen Plan

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.

  1. PPE Sales Tax Exemption Up Before House Panel
  2. Senate Could Vote on COVID Relief Next Week; Gov Wants Negotiations
  3. Whitmer Rebuffs Evans, Hackel Criticism on Vaccine Distribution
  4. Restaurant Group Pushes for Plan to Fully Reopen
  5. UIA: Borrowing Not Needed in 2021 to Restore Michigan’s Trust Fund

PPE Sales Tax Exemption Up Before House Panel

Bipartisan legislation providing businesses a sales and use tax exemption for personal protective equipment purchased to help protect employees and for other uses was discussed by the House Rules and Competitiveness Committee on Thursday.

HB 4224 and HB 4225 are sponsored by Rep. Jim Lilly (R-Park Township) and Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing). Under the bills, businesses would be exempt from paying sales and use tax from March 20, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2021, on PPE designed to protect employees and customers from the coronavirus.

For businesses to qualify for the retroactive piece, which would come from a refund issued by the Department of Treasury, they would have to submit a COVID-19 safety protocol plan.

“Businesses around our state are facing unprecedented hurdles to stay open and the unexpected expense of PPE and sanitation equipment is certainly among those challenges,” Lilly said. “These bills are aimed at providing some relief to employers who are keeping their employees safe while continuing their business activity.”

Anthony said she has been impressed with employers and businesses that have persevered and kept their doors open during the pandemic.

“The reality is there is a significant cost in order to actually implement those changes needed to operate in a global pandemic,” she said. “They are doing everything they can. They are doing it right. They are following the rules. And I feel like it is now our responsibility to extend support.”

Business groups, including the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Lansing Regional Chamber, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, were in support of the legislation.

The Department of Treasury does not have a position on the legislation, Aaron Keel told the committee.

He said given the price tag of the bill, which Treasury put at $18 million for the entirety of the exemption, it should be part of a larger budget conversation. He said the concern is around the price tag and not necessarily the policy being proposed.

“Treasury wants to be a partner in identifying and assisting businesses that need the most relief,” he said. “And we fully recognize the economic struggle that many are going through right now.”

Keel said the agency looks forward to continuing the conversation.

The House Fiscal Agency said the bills would cost up to $5 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year, up to $10 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year, and up to $4 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) said the state of Michigan should not be looking at the sale of PPE as a money-generator for the state.

“To me, this seems like…these bills seem like the biggest no-brainer I’ve ever heard,” he said.

Lilly said he would be encouraging House Republican leadership to include payments for these bills on the budget side and called on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to do the same as her administration works on the budget and supplemental spending bills.

The committee did not act on the legislation on Thursday.


Senate Could Vote on COVID Relief Next Week; Gov Wants Negotiations

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to fully release federal dollars to help the state respond to the coronavirus pandemic and negotiate with the administration while the Senate Appropriations Committee chair said the legislative chambers are working out their differences first.

Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said conversations are still ongoing with House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) and some areas of difference still need to be hammered out on the supplemental.

Stamas declined to provide specifics on what areas are still being negotiated.

“My hope is on this supplemental is to kick something out of the Senate next week,” Stamas said.

Whether it will be the Senate supplemental or a substituted version of the House legislation has not yet been decided, he added.

“We’ve not had a lot of discussions with the administration on this one,” Stamas said.

He said his hope is to begin to ramp up those discussions prior to the vote in the Senate next week.

Stamas explained that each supplemental is different and in this case with the differences between the House and Senate, he believed it was best to work to get both chambers more in sync prior to entering final negotiations with the administration.

At a news briefing, Gov. Whitmer again implored the Legislature to begin negotiations with her on the COVID-19 relief bill. She praised House and Senate Republicans for putting out their own proposals to spend some of the federal relief.

“It’s time that we figuratively get in the room and negotiate the details and get it done. Because every day that goes by is $5 billion that could be infused into our economy and our efforts to protect people,” she said. “Let’s invest the dollars that have been given to us. Let’s invest them in us, in our state, our schools, our health, and our infrastructure. So I’m once again appealing to the Legislature to let’s get to the table and negotiate these details and get it done and not waste another precious moment.”

Gov. Whitmer said Budget Director Dave Massaron has had individual conversations with some legislators. And she said she continues to host meetings of the Legislative Quadrant in hopes that will ignite negotiations.

“We are eager to find some common ground here,” she said. “Every minute that goes by that we are not deploying those resources threatens our ability to get back to normal. That’s precisely why I’m continuing to call on them, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and get this done.'”

Albert said in a statement negotiations have progressed – the Governor “just isn’t personally part of them.”

“As I have said before, we will afford the governor as much input on the budget as she has afforded the people of Michigan during this pandemic,” he said. “But I have meetings every day on this issue – talking to our partners in the Senate, Democratic members of the House, and the State Budget Office to continue to advance the budget supplemental to the finish line.”

While the House has passed its COVID relief bill supplemental spending bill, which includes an ultimatum for Gov. Whitmer tying funding for education to a separate bill that would allow only local health departments to close schools and halt school sports, the Senate plan does not include that provision.

The House plan also includes General Fund dollars for business assistance and spends about a quarter of federal money designed for things like vaccine distribution, rental assistance, and testing.

On the Senate side, Stamas’ legislation also does not spend all of the federal funding available. It includes about $2 billion.


Whitmer Rebuffs Evans, Hackel Criticism on Vaccine Distribution

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Wednesday, in response to criticism from two county executives that they are getting fewer COVID-19 vaccines per person than other areas of the state, said the problem is the total number of vaccines available – not how the state is distributing them.

In recent weeks, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans have questioned why their counties are getting fewer vaccines per person than other parts of the state.

“The math’s pretty simple to me. I don’t know how many doses we should have, but I know it’s far more than we’re receiving,” Evans told WDET-FM’s “Detroit Today” earlier this month.

Asked about a meeting he had with Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, Evans told the program: “There was no answer as to why we are receiving fewer doses. They gave us the factors – age, population, social vulnerability index – are the factors that somehow they put in the hopper and come out with a number but they couldn’t explain why our number using those factors was less than surrounding counties. … When the question is asked, I’m not getting a logical response.”

A chart published Wednesday by the Senate Fiscal Agency using Department of Health and Human Services data as of Sunday showed that the northern Lower Peninsula region was seeing a seven-day average of 299 people per 100,000 receiving the first dose of the vaccine compared to 187 in the region encompassing Monroe, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties.

Gov. Whitmer was asked at a news briefing about the criticism and deferred to Khaldun but not before offering comments that sounded displeased with how Evans and Hackel have characterized vaccine distribution.

“I’m going to have Dr. J walk you through what the numbers are so we can have a conversation based on what the state has actually done,” she said. “But what we have seen I think is that there just simply are not enough vaccines to meet demand right now. Every state in the nation has that story, and every local municipality is confronting that as well.”

Khaldun said the state has analyzed the number of people eligible for the vaccine in each county – those 65 and older, health care workers, frontline workers, and other classifications – to determine how many vaccines to send to each county.

The northern Lower Peninsula has a far greater percentage of residents 65 and older than counties Downstate. Washtenaw and Wayne counties have the fourth- and eighth-lowest percentages of seniors making up their population among the state’s 83 counties.

“We’re as eager to get more vaccines into Michigan as they are at the county level as well,” Gov. Whitmer said. “And that’s what we’re working toward, and we’re seeing increases.”

Evans spokesperson Bill Nowling, asked about the Governor’s and Khaldun’s explanation of where the numbers stand, said he had nothing to add beyond what Evans has already said about the situation.

Michigan now stands at 13.7% of those 16 and older having received their first dose of the vaccine, up from 11.7% last week with 514,000 people fully vaccinated. Of those 75 and older, 35.4% have had at least one dose and of those between the ages of 65 and 74, 29.3% have had at least one dose.

“We are seeing Michigan making great strides,” Gov. Whitmer said.


Restaurant Group Pushes for Plan to Fully Reopen

If the state’s coronavirus positivity rate is lower than 3%, restaurants could be open at 100% capacity with no restrictions under a plan proposed by the leading industry group Wednesday that saw support from other business advocates.

The plan comes as restaurants remain limited to 25% capacity and a 10 p.m. curfew until March 29 under the current epidemic order.

There are six categories of restrictions in the plan proposed by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, which stipulate:

  • If the positivity rate is lower than 3%, no capacity restrictions and no limitations on meetings or other events. The seven-day average would need to remain lower than 3% for 14 consecutive days to move into this category;
  • If the positivity rate is between 3 and 7%, restaurants would be limited to 50% capacity and meetings and events limited to 50 people per square foot with a hard cap of 250 indoors and 500 outdoors. The positivity rate would have to remain at this level for seven consecutive days to move into this category;
  • If the positivity rate is between 7 and 10%, restaurants would be limited to 50% capacity and subject to a 10 p.m. curfew with contact tracing requirements. Events and meetings would be limited to 25 people per square feet with a 150-person cap indoors and 250 outdoors.
  • If the positivity rate was between 10 and 15%, restaurants would be limited to 25% capacity, subject to a 10 p.m. curfew and contact tracing requirements. Meetings and events would be limited to 15 people per square feet and a hard cap of 50 people indoors and 150 outdoors; and
  • If the positivity rate was between 15 to 20%, restaurants would close for indoor service but meetings and events could occur for fewer than 10 people from no more than two households. If the rate was more than 20%, restaurants would be closed to indoor service, and meetings or events would not be allowed.

The proposal also calls for hospitality workers to be categorized as other essential frontline workers in category 1b for coronavirus vaccinations.

“We have long advocated the need for a more comprehensive strategy for the economic reintegration of our restaurants, banquet centers and entertainment venues in Michigan,” MRLA president and CEO Justin Winslow said in a statement. “Through this plan, we are putting our metrics where our mouth is and hope it proves a useful tool to elected leaders as we enter a new phase of the pandemic.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her administration welcomes input but also did not seem overly enthusiastic about what was proposed.

The Governor said the restrictions her administration issued in November, like closing dine-in service at restaurants and bars through Jan. 31, put Michigan in a better position than most other states.

“The burden’s been greater for the restaurant industry, there’s no question. I understand the desire to raise the voice and to give some input and we will always take that input and make it a part of the conversation that we have. We’re also going to though stay very clearly focused on the numbers and the data and monitor where we are,” she said. “I will always take input but what we really need right now is partnership to focus on the pathway out of the pandemic and that is through this COVID relief plan.”

Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley said in a statement the plan provides a strong, data-driven approach to reopening some of the hardest-hit industries.

“Restaurants, lodging, and event/meeting-based businesses need to know what the standards are that keep them closed or limited in their operations, and when restrictions will be eased,” Calley said in a statement. “These metrics establish those standards in an objective way, keeping public health and safety front and center.”

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance also signaled support for a “comprehensive reopening strategy for bars and restaurants.”

“The Alliance is willing to safely meet with any leader who wants to formulate a plan for reopening so our bars and restaurants can anticipate what happens next,” Sarah Hagen, the vice-chairperson of the Alliance and president of the Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “It’s time to provide this industry with a timeline and metrics to fully reopen.”


UIA: Borrowing Not Needed in 2021 to Restore Michigan’s Trust Fund

The need to borrow and restore Michigan’s trust fund is unlikely in 2021, officials with the Unemployment Insurance Agency said in a statement Thursday.

Current unemployment claims activities and economic conditions have led to the UIA believing the agency will not need to borrow from the federal government to ensure unemployment benefits are disbursed in 2021.

It was a sentiment UIA Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson also conveyed to the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee Thursday.

There, she told senators a vast majority of the potential fraud Michigan incurred while relaxing security to divvy out benefits faster occurred among federal programs. Because of that, there is “little to no impact on the Trust Fund.”

Michigan continues to have one of the healthiest trust funds in the country at $600 million available for UI benefits, as of the beginning of this month, Olson added.

“Michigan is one of the few states that has yet to borrow federal dollars,” she said. “States like Ohio, Texas, and California had to start borrowing in the spring of 2020. Based on our current economic conditions and forecasting, the UIA does not anticipate the need for Title 12 borrowing in calendar year 2021.”

She did say, however, that the UIA would “continue to monitor the fund closely.”

Both Olson, and the statement put out by the UIA earlier Thursday, credited Michigan’s Work Share Program as the reason behind the trust fund’s success which saved more than $80 million. The program allows job providers to retain skilled employees, avoid layoffs or bring back workers at reduced hours while employees collect partial unemployment benefits to supplement lost wages.

Work Share has helped 2,700 businesses in-state and almost 97,000 employees at the peak of enrollment, Olson added, outpacing the combined totals of larger states like New York, Texas, and Ohio.

Mike Johnston, Michigan Manufacturing Association vice president for government affairs, said in a statement that he was encouraged the fund would not need to borrow as “employers will avoid increased employment costs.”

“One of the best solutions to solvency is getting people back to work, through Work Share, and filling open positions in manufacturing through work search,” he said.

Olson also confirmed that during her hearing in response to a question as to why she supported Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of a temporary 26-week unemployment extension.

“The trust fund is designed to be an employer-paid trust fund, and employers have not been charged for benefits since the start of the pandemic, and they continue to not be charged for those benefits. That’s going to have an impact on the trust fund long term,” she said. “Employers did not see an increase in their taxes in general. They should have stayed about the same for this new tax year.”