Duggan Appoints New Director of Civil Rights, Inclusion, and Opportunity

Crain’s Detroit Business
May 19, 2022

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has appointed a new director of the city’s Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion, and Opportunity (CRIO) to fill the vacancy recently created by the exit of Kimberly Rustem, who accepted a new opportunity, according to a news release.

The city’s Human Rights Commission unanimously voted to approve Anthony Zander’s appointment on Thursday and he started his new role Tuesday. His annual salary is $161,260, a city spokesperson told Crain’s.

Zander, 44, will lead the city’s efforts to promote equity, inclusion and business opportunities in Detroit, including monitoring community benefits ordinances and mediating civil rights complaints. He will also oversee CRIO’s Office of Disability Affairs, led by Christopher Samp, as well as the Office of Marijuana Ventures and Entrepreneurship, led by Megan Moslimani.

Previously, Zander was a member of Duggan’s Lean Continuous Improvement team. His work consisted of supporting city departments in improving internal processes, developing processes for new programs and leading cross-departmental projects. Most recently, he led efforts to streamline the business licensing process, removing barriers for small businesses to become compliant, and he remains an integral part of executing an equitable marijuana program, the release stated.

“With his proven experience in improving the delivery of important services, I have complete confidence that he will make sure our department of civil rights, inclusion and opportunity is operating effectively on behalf of all Detroiters,” Duggan said of Zander.

Zander will focus on these main areas:

  • ensuring all people and entities subject to Executive Order on Detroiter hiring are compliant
  • the CRIO department is properly structured to investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination
  • make certain the Disability Affairs strategic plan is properly resourced
  • proactively protect the human and civil rights of Detroiters and visitors

Prior to joining the city, Zander worked in Washington, D.C., Lansing and Detroit focusing on humanitarian policy, and eventually led the American Red Cross’ statewide Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs department, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The native Detroiter has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and is a graduate student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

View the original article.

May 20 | This Week in Government: Whitmer, Legislature Up The Ante In Tax Cut Fight; Reading Scores Stagnant, Ranking Could Drop By 2030

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. Whitmer, Legislature Up The Ante In Tax Cut Fight
  2. Report: Reading Scores Stagnant, Ranking Could Drop By 2030
  3. HFA: Revenues Up $5B In Current, Next Fiscal Year
  4. Wayne County Clerk: Hollier Stays On Ballot, Griffie To Appeal
  5. Santana Seeks To End State Oversight Of Detroit

Whitmer, Legislature Up The Ante In Tax Cut Fight
Governor Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Republicans appeared as far apart as ever on how to spend the state’s increased revenues with the GOP moving a more than $2 billion tax cut and the governor calling for a $500 rebate for an undefined group of taxpayers.

On Thursday morning, as word began trickling out that Republicans planned a vote on another massive tax cut, Ms. Whitmer announced a letter to legislative leadership calling for a $500 rebate for “working families,” but did not immediately provide further details on the structure of the proposal.

Moving in a totally different direction, the Senate first took up HB 4568 and SB 784, legislation that a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis estimated would reduce revenues by about $2.7 billion when fully enacted and included proposals to lower the personal income tax, increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and provide a child tax credit, among other things.

Though a different direction, Thursday’s actions underscored a reality, that the political terrain has shifted toward returning money to taxpayers in some form, traditionally a winning issue for Republicans. They also clearly unnerved organizations representing entities that rely on state government for funding who appear to have few allies in either party in trying to direct the surplus toward new or expanded funding and programs.

But the actions also signaled that efforts to finalize the 2022-23 fiscal year budget before the Legislature adjourns for the summer in the coming weeks – a resolution dependent on an agreement on taxes – is not close.

Both chambers moved HB 4568 and the House will follow suit on SB 784 next week, sending the plan to Ms. Whitmer’s desk.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) prior to the votes on the bills railed against Ms. Whitmer, calling her complicit with President Joe Biden’s administration in sparking decades-high rates of inflation along with high gasoline prices.

“The pandering effort of this governor to try and cover up for all the pain and suffering that she has been complicit with over the last two years, most recently with our president and creating inflation that we’re fighting … is amazing,” Mr. Shirkey said. “Let there be no mistake: our plan is sustainable. It’s ongoing. … We are only beginning, but I’m damn proud of what this body is about to pass, and we are not done yet.”

Senators voted 22-14 along party lines on HB 4568 and 22-15 on SB 784, with Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) the lone GOP vote against the latter bill. Democrats denied HB 4568 immediate effect on a party-line vote to prevent the necessary two-thirds vote.

House lawmakers Thursday only signed off on one of the two bills looking to cut taxes to the tune of what the lower chamber says will be just over $2.5 billion, a slight decrease from the Senate’s fiscal analysis.

HB 4568 passed in a 69-34 vote following pushback from some Democratic lawmakers – though more than one-quarter of the caucus voted yes – who claim that any relief offered through the legislation would not be immediate enough.

Fourteen House Democrats voted in favor of the bill: Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Brownstown Township, Rep. Kevin Coleman of Westland, Rep. Alex Garza of Taylor, Rep. Carol Glanville of Walker, Rep. Jim Haadsma of Battle Creek, Rep. Kevin Hertel of Saint Clair Shores, Rep. Jewell Jones of Inkster, Rep. Matt Koleszar of Plymouth, Rep. Padma Kuppa of Troy, Rep. David LaGrand of Grand Rapids, Rep. Terry Sabo of Muskegon, Rep. Shri Thanedar of Detroit, Rep. Karen Whitsett of Detroit and Rep. Angela Witwer of Delta Township.

All except Mr. Coleman, Mr. Jones, and Ms. Whitsett are running in competitive elections this year.

Democratic lawmakers were loud in their displeasure for the package, however, with House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) in a floor speech calling the move inadequate and a misuse of one-time dollars.

“What this bill does is send an IOU to you to collect after Tax Day 2023,” she said. “That’s a minimum of 12 to 15 months from now. You don’t know the price of beef, bread or milk – or anything – will be next year. But we do know that Michiganders need relief at the grocery line right now. … What this bill does is point out the recklessness, again, and irresponsibility of using a one-time surplus to bankrupt the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Nonetheless, Republicans say their plan provides continuing relief for Michiganders beyond what Ms. Whitmer is proposing.

Rep. Matt Hall (R-Comstock Township), speaking to reporters before the vote, said he thought the plan was the result of Republicans listening to Ms. Whitmer’s issues with a previous $2.5 billion tax cut and working to better incorporate Democratic wants, like an increase of the EITC.

“We listened, we looked at what she had, we worked with the Senate, and I think we have a pretty good plan – another $2.5 billion plan that will save Michigan workers and families a lot of money,” Mr. Hall said. “So, we’re very proud of the plan and I think it’ll be something that really helps the people in Michigan. … Now, with all of the inflation, cost of living increases that have really been caused by Democrats, (people) are suffering. And this plan will give that relief.”

The House-passed bill is one part of Republicans’ tax cut plan unveiled early Tuesday which is a variation from another $2.5 billion tax cut plan vetoed by Ms. Whitmer earlier this year. That would have reduced the personal income tax rate to 3.9 percent while broadening exemptions in retirement income while establishing a $500 per child tax credit (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 18, 2022).

Earlier Thursday before the Legislature had finalized its proposal, Ms. Whitmer told reporters at a media availability that the Republican proposal is “not a real plan.”

“It is a massive move that they are making, using some one-time funds without real regard for what it’s going to mean about our ability to invest in skills, lure investment in Michigan, to invest in education,” Ms. Whitmer said. “All of these things are crucial to the strength of our economy. We’re making great progress. We cannot afford to go backward, especially for something that doesn’t actually give people relief right now.”

The GOP proposal when unveiled Thursday afternoon called for a reduction in the personal income tax from 4.25 percent to 4 percent beginning with the 2023 tax year. An increase in the personal exemption of $1,800, would take effect in the 2023 tax year.

A $500 tax credit per child is also included and would be available beginning in tax years beginning on January 1, 2022.

The senior exemption would be raised to $21,800 for single filers and $43,600 for joint filers from $20,000 and $40,000, respectively, beginning January 1, 2023, after a person reaches 67 years old. The exemption would also be indexed for inflation beginning with the 2024 tax year.

Another proposal in the package would raise the Earned Income Tax Credit from 6 percent of a taxpayer’s federal EITC to 20 percent beginning with the 2022 tax year.

There is also a portion that deals with taxes for veterans, which beginning in the 2023 tax year would allow a disabled veteran who met the bill’s criteria (as well as a veteran’s widow, or widow of a veteran killed in action) to claim a credit against their income tax in an amount equal to 100 percent of the property tax levied on their homestead deductible for federal income tax purposes.

The second bill, SB 784, mainly included several provisions outlining the mechanics of the disabled veteran part of the proposal.

Prior to Senate passage of HB 4568, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) introduced an amendment that failed along party lines and perhaps shed some light on Ms. Whitmer’s rebate concept might work. It would have provided $500 per household plus $100 for each dependent for all households with an adjusted gross income of less than $250,000. There was no information as to how many households would be eligible nor the cost.

Mr. Hertel prior to the vote said the one-time assistance to residents in his amendment would provide immediate help that is urgently needed. The GOP plan, he said, does nothing to help struggling families now and little to those with lower incomes that are most in need, adding it provides more to those in the wealthiest income brackets.

“It reminds me of the old Popeye cartoon where you have a character named Wimpy, and Wimpy would say that he will ‘gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today,'” Mr. Hertel said. “That’s exactly what this Republican tax plan is: it’s wimpy. No help now, just a promise for a future after an election.”

The gulf between Republicans and Democrats was laid bare in remarks by Mr. Shirkey and Mr. Hertel to reporters following the session both on the content of the competing plans and where they believed negotiations stood.

Mr. Hertel called the majority leader’s claims of a governor having anything to do with inflation one of the craziest things he has heard in his time in the Senate, adding inflation is a global concern right now.

The senator also said there were rumors Wednesday that a tax package might be coming from the Republicans, but members did not see the bills until about five minutes prior to the vote.

He reiterated that Michigan families need help now, not tax cuts that do not take effect for one or more years. He said serious negotiations need to begin, which he has been open to for some time.

“The proposal that we put out today is mostly based on current one-time funding,” Mr. Hertel said. “The problems that Michiganders face right now are also one-time, so let’s get the money in their pockets now and help them survive.”

Mr. Shirkey told reporters the Democratic stance on immediate relief Thursday was hypocritical given the party was against a gas tax suspension bill that Ms. Whitmer recently vetoed, and the Democrats had refused to approve immediate effect for when passed by the Legislature.

When asked who is refusing to negotiate, Mr. Shirkey rejected the premise, saying the Legislature has repeatedly sent the governor bills containing what he called solid policy.

“Just about everything in this bill at one time or another, with the exception of maybe the reduction in income tax, has been called for by this governor, and so she can find her fingerprints in virtually 80 percent of what this bill includes,” Mr. Shirkey said.

As to whether the governor has asked to negotiate with him, he said she has not, and that they rarely meet. He added that he met with the governor Thursday morning, going over the concepts in the tax legislation and more. Mr. Shirkey said the governor handed out details of her $500 rebate plan near the end of that meeting “just before her pandering press release.”

“There’s nothing wrong with negotiations, nor is there anything wrong with pressing something that’s not being done,” Mr. Shirkey said. “There’s no leadership occurring right now to try to provide the kinds of policies necessary to make Michigan attractive to capital, both human capital and financial capital, and that’s what Republicans are doing, we’re trying to make sure that we are attractive to those kinds of investments.”

Mr. Shirkey also defended his accusation of Ms. Whitmer being complicit in the rising rate of inflation.

“She has shut down industries, businesses, lifestyle, which has caused the reaction from the federal government to have to do something that is almost unprecedented, and that is to send out trillions of dollars, ostensibly to help, but it is what has caused the inflation, so she’s absolutely complicit,” Mr. Shirkey said.

Senate Fiscal Agency estimates put the reduction in revenue at $581.3 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year, growing to $2 billion in fiscal year 2022-23 and then to $2.63 billion in 2023-24 and $2.69 billion in 2024-25.

The House Fiscal Agency currently projects a year-end balance in the 2022-23 fiscal year of $6.3 billion based on the budget bills the House passed, which are far slimmer than what Ms. Whitmer recommended. That would seem to indicate that if the plans passed Thursday became law, they could be paid for over the next two fiscal years but then there would have to be sufficient revenue growth or spending reductions to keep the budget balanced from then on.

Broken out, the General Fund would see a reduction of $494.1 million in fiscal year 2021-22 under the proposal before increasing to $1.79 billion in 2022-23, to $2.38 billion in 2023-24, and $2.44 billion in 2024-25. School Aid Fund monies would decline by an estimated $87.2 million in fiscal year 2021-22, with that figure climbing to $217.5 million in 2022-23, to $242.6 million in 2023-24, and to $244.5 million in 2024-25.

Following the votes, the response from the political parties and various groups in statements was split.

Michigan Republican Party spokesperson Gustavo Portela said the move Thursday showed the Republicans were taking the lead on helping Michigan families “while Gretchen Whitmer continues to be distracted playing national politics.”

“Michigan Republicans are putting small businesses and working Michiganders first with the latest package passed by the Legislature,” Mr. Portela said. “If Gretchen Whitmer is serious about her newfound religion on providing relief from the policies coming from her ally, Joe Biden, she will sign this relief into law when it reaches her desk.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes called the GOP plan a sham and urged lawmakers to begin negotiations with the administration.

“This legislative GOP circus continues, expanding chaos and corruption into a third ring ramming through a self-sabotaging tax plan that would impact Michigan’s ability to function at the most basic level and undermine all of our economic progress,” Ms. Barnes said. “To really underline their total disregard for working families, they cultivated a sham plan to force cuts to public schools and defund local police and fire protection that wouldn’t even go into effect until next year.”

Brian Calley, Small Business Association of Michigan president and CEO, supported the move by calling it “past time to provide permanent tax relief” while the state is flush with billions in surplus revenue.

“SBAM is very supportive of this sensible legislative plan to lower the individual tax rate, which is the main tax small business owners pay, while also expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to better support Michigan workers and their families,” Mr. Calley said. “Providing broad, permanent tax relief for Michiganders and small businesses is the fair and equitable thing to do and we hope to see these plans become law in the near future.”

Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tori Sachs praised legislative Republicans while bashing the proposal from Ms. Whitmer.

“You can always count on Governor Whitmer to do whatever it takes to advance her own political standing and today’s proposed ‘rebates’ are an election year stunt after she vetoed tax cuts on gas and relief for families and seniors,” Ms. Sachs said. “We applaud Republicans in Lansing for proposing meaningful tax relief for family pocketbooks while Whitmer shows her desperation to slow her falling poll numbers.”

Monique Stanton, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, called for negotiations on what she called areas of agreement including on the EITC. A coalition the group is a part of recently called for raising the EITC to 30 percent (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 28, 2022).

“The components for a compromise are there, particularly the understanding that we need to do more for Michigan workers and parents who are barely making ends meet,” Ms. Stanton said. “Policymakers clearly recognize that the EITC benefits kids, workers, and businesses in every part of the state, and while significant differences remain around what to do with the state’s expected surplus revenue, it’s noteworthy that raising the EITC continues to be the lone proponent with bipartisan agreement.”

Report: Reading Scores Stagnant, Ranking Could Drop By 2030
A report released Tuesday by Education Trust-Midwest said Michigan’s fourth grade reading scores haven’t budged in more than a decade and the state’s ranking nationwide could drop heading into 2030 without changes.

Michigan’s fourth grade reading scores have remained largely stagnant for 16 years, with the state ranking 32nd in the nation for fourth grade reading. The report also projected that by 2030, the state would drop in ranking to 39th overall for fourth grade reading and see a slight increase in eighth grade math scores by ranking 27th.

The report, titled “Still Stalled: State of Michigan Education Report 2022,” also found the math scores for eighth grade students were down as well, ranking in the bottom 50 percent as of 2019. The state ranked 27th in the nation for eighth grade math.

“While these results are clearly troubling, they also represent an opportunity for our state to create a ‘new normal,’ where every student has the opportunity to achieve and where students with the greatest needs receive the funding and resources they need to succeed,” Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, said in a statement.

Though there have been many studies illustrating the negative effects of remote learning, this study focuses on pre-pandemic test scores. Even before the trials of virtual learning during the pandemic, Michigan students were struggling to keep up nationally.

Eighth grade math scores showed improvement but still did not measure up to other states. Tennessee for instance showed an 11.9 average scale score change while Michigan only saw a 3.8 average scale score change.

Latino students in eighth grade math performed in the bottom half of states and Black students ranked in the bottom 10 for the same criteria.

Nealy all test scores – nationally and statewide – mimicked similar results, with the K-12 students falling behind in a variety of areas. While other states have seen scores rise between 2003-2019, Michigan literacy scores fell half a point while the national average score rose three points.

The state also ranked in the bottom 10 states for fourth grade reading among Black students in 2019 and among Latino students, the state performed in the bottom 50 percent for that same year.

For Michigan’s M-STEP testing data from 2019, the organization found that only 45.1 percent of all students demonstrated proficiency in third grade English Language Arts. Further, students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income backgrounds fell at least 11 percent below the statewide average.

White students scored about the statewide average, but only 53.1 percent demonstrated proficiency in reading at the third-grade level.

Statewide math scores showed similar problems, with the statewide average for seventh grade math for all students in 2019 being 35.7 percent. Students of color and low-income students’ proficiency rates were more than 10 percent below the statewide rate and white students scored above the average but only 42.5 percent demonstrated proficiency.

As for mid-pandemic data, the researchers said Michigan was granted a participation waiver in 2021. Before this waiver in 2019, more than 90 percent of Black students, Latino students, and low-income students participated in the third-grade state reading assessment. In 2021, that number dropped a drastic 30 percent in participation for Latino and low-income students. Black student participation dropped more than 50 percent.

“National research supports that these student groups may have experienced larger unfinished instruction compared to others,” researchers wrote. “It is also important to note that students of color and low-income students that were not assessed may not experience the benefit of data being used to allocate further resources and supports to assist in their educational recovery from the pandemic.”

Mid-pandemic English Language Arts and math rates continued to show the decline. The M-STEP statewide proficiency rate dropped from 45.1 percent to 42.8 percent. Black students dropped to 15.4 percent, Latino students to 31.1 percent, and low-income students to 27.6 percent. White students still remained above the 2019 and 2021 proficiency rates, but 49.1 percent demonstrated proficiency in the English Language Arts.

Math M-STEP scores for seventh grade came in at a statewide average of 32.3 percent, down from 35.1 percent in 2019. Black students experienced the largest slow-down, with 9.2 percent demonstrating math proficiency. Low-income students came in second to last, with 17.1 percent demonstrating math proficiency, followed by 20.5 percent of Latino students demonstrating proficiency. White students, though scoring above both the 2019 and 2021 statewide average, demonstrated 36.2 percent proficiency.

The report recommends the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund be used to prioritize those whose needs are greatest, invest in strategies such as targeted intensive tutoring, and being open and transparent about spending.

The researchers praised Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature for reinforcing in 2020 the need for education data and transparency through a bipartisan package. The legislation, which ensured that every district had access to benchmark assessments aligned with state standards, has allowed the data to inform educational experts on the impact the pandemic has had on students.

The researchers also recommended the Department of Education continue its commitment to transparency and national standards by continuing the administration of M-STEP. Requesting the state improve by adopting an earlier timeframe for releasing the schools like other states do.

A weighted student funding formula was also suggested. By including equity weights based on research, the increase in adequacy funding will over time automatically close opportunity gaps for marginalized students, low-income students, students in rural and isolated communities, and students in underserved communities.

The state is vastly behind others in terms of funding weight for underserved students. Massachusetts for instance grants up to 105 percent more funding for low-income students and Maryland gives 73 percent more. Michigan on the other hand has a weight of 11.5 percent and it is estimated only nine percent is spent in recent budget years.

English learners in certain districts in Georgia are allocated 159 percent more funding while Michigan once again only guarantees up to 11 percent in additional funding for English Learners. The researchers are suggesting at least 100 percent more funding for students from low-income backgrounds and at least 75 percent to 100 percent more funding for English Learners. Additional funding for students with disabilities is also being recommended.

Attracting teacher talent to schools remains a struggle for the education system. In the report, the researchers strongly recommended the Legislature use the federal stimulus dollars and close the $10,000 salary gap for teachers in districts serving greater percentages of economically disadvantaged students.

It also recommended continued protection to financial aid access, finding that on average low-income students paying in-state tuition at a four-year public university or college while living on campus face a $2,347 affordability gap.

HFA: Revenues Up $5B In Current, Next Fiscal Year
The House Fiscal Agency is revising revenues upward $2.78 billion in the current fiscal year and $2.24 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal year, it said in its economic forecast released ahead of this week’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference.

On Wednesday, the House agency released its numbers, which are slightly higher than the Senate Fiscal Agency estimates released Tuesday (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 17, 2022).

While the two agencies were similar in their projections for the current 2021-22 fiscal year, at $2.8 billion between the School Aid Fund and General Fund, the HFA is revising revenues in the 2022-23 fiscal year upward more than the SFA.

Specifically, the House is estimating the General Fund in the current fiscal year to be $1.47 billion higher than the January consensus and the School Aid Fund $1.31 billion higher.

For the 2022-23 fiscal year, for which the Legislature and administration are currently planning a budget, the HFA is estimating revenues to be $1.4 billion higher in the General Fund and $825 million higher in the School Aid Fund.

The HFA, SFA, and officials with the Department of Treasury will meet Friday to determine officially how to revise revenue projections. Treasury does not release its forecast ahead of the conference.

Further, the HFA is estimating the General Fund year-end balance for the current fiscal year to be $5.4 billion and the School Aid Fund $4.9 billion in the current fiscal year. For the next fiscal year, based on the House version of the budget, the HFA is estimating a year-end balance of $3.8 billion in the General Fund and $2.6 billion in the School Aid Fund.

Wayne County Clerk: Hollier Stays On Ballot, Griffie To Appeal
Sen. Adam Hollier will remain on the 2022 ballot as a candidate in the 13th U.S. House District, the Wayne County clerk said Wednesday in a response to a challenge from another Democratic candidate in the race.

Michael Griffie has challenged Mr. Hollier’s eligibility, alleging the lawmaker had not filed an amended campaign finance report as he was required to do at the time of his filing to run for Congress (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 25, 2022).

However, Elections Director Jonathan Brater informed Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett that although the online system had not yet reflected it, Mr. Hollier had indeed satisfied all requirements as of April 12. He filed to run for Congress on April 15.

Still, Mr. Griffie said Wednesday he would appeal the determination.

“Political insiders and career politicians must play by the same rules as everyone else. This is why we plan to appeal the clerk’s decision,” he said in a statement. “We need a new generation of leaders who play by the rules and are committed to transparency and good governance.”

Mr. Griffie and Mr. Hollier are running in the open 13th District in a crowded field. John Conyers III, Rep. Shri Thanedar, former Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Angela McIntosh, Sam Riddle, Portia Roberson, Lorrie Rutledge, and Adrian Tonon are also seeking the Democratic nomination.

The decision from the Wayne County clerk came as the state and local clerks are making determinations on ballot eligibility for candidates up and down the ballot.

On Wednesday, the Department of State deemed several candidates ineligible, including 11 for outstanding campaign finance issues at the time of their filing. Sen. Betty Alexander (D-Detroit) was one of those candidates, and her campaign intends to challenge the finding (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 17, 2022).

Santana Seeks To End State Oversight Of Detroit
State oversight of Detroit would end more than a decade earlier than planned under a series of bills introduced Tuesday by Sen. Sylvia Santana

The package would repeal parts of the measures put in place during its bankruptcy proceedings which Ms. Santana (D-Detroit) said are no longer necessary.

In a Wednesday release, Ms. Santana said sacrifices have been made by those in the city and it is now on a firm financial footing, which she said should enable it to govern its own finances once more rather than the state.

The bills include the repeal of the Michigan Financial Commission Review (SB 1037 ) and the Michigan Settlement Administration Authority Act (SB 1036 ), put in place when the city was navigating its financial woes.

In 2014 the package provided $195 million in an effort to guarantee about $1 billion to shore up the city pensioner’s income and protect the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“At the time, Detroit’s ‘Grand Bargain’ kept the city’s lights on and kept people safe during times of tragic upheaval in one of America’s great cities – but that time is over, and the state must cede control back to local elected officials,” Ms. Santana said. “Residents who made many financial sacrifices – especially those who forfeited retirement income – deserve to have the city back in control of the people they voted for, not officials in Lansing.”

The remaining bills in the package, SB 1038, SB 1039, and SB 1040, would do multiple things. The bills would eliminate the population threshold applying to the city of Detroit would be ended that opts out of employer-provided health care for public employees, repeal the chief financial officer on Detroit’s financial commission and modify restrictions put in place on public pensions.

As enacted, a nine-member commission was put in place mostly consisting of gubernatorial appointees and chaired by the state treasurer. The 2014 legislation was intended to provide oversight of the city’s finances through 2034.

“There is still a lot of work we must do in Detroit to right the wrongs leading up to the bankruptcy in 2014, but the Motor City is back,” Ms. Santana said. “We must give control back to the community and that is precisely what my legislation intends to do.”

The bills were referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), chair of Appropriations, said he would have to look into the issue a bit more before considering whether the package would warrant a hearing.

He said his initial concern was whether legislative action might be possible given the terms of the bankruptcy settlement in federal court. Also, he would like to know more about what stakeholders or local officials may be supportive of the senator’s proposal and if any of the proposed changes might help the city.

“We’ve seen an amazing comeback for Detroit. We have to make sure Detroit continues to grow and succeed,” Mr. Stamas said, adding some of the policies included in the overall settlement may have been factors in the turnaround, along with the work of the mayor and local business leaders.

Paul W. Smith

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Registration is open for AssuredPartners of Michigan’s Webinar: Simplifying HSAs for Employers

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Gov. Whitmer Announces New Data Showing Record Small Business Growth


Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
May 16, 2022

LANSING — Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer highlighted new data showing Michigan’s economic jumpstart continues as small businesses in the state are experiencing tremendous growth and expansion. In the first three quarters of 2021 alone, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees created almost 170,000 jobs, the fastest start to small business job growth in 23 years, according to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information. The state also saw an explosion of entrepreneurs and business owners beginning new ventures in 2021, with 150,000 new small business applications filed to start businesses, which is 59% more than in 2019.

Michigan is home to 902,000 small businesses, with 1.9 million small business employees, representing 48.3% of Michigan workers. And 99.6% of Michigan businesses are defined as small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

View the entire press release.

Further, explore the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2022 State of Region report below.

2022 State of the Region


Michigan trails other states in fourth-grade reading. Report warns it could get worse

Detroit News
Jennifer Chambers

May 17, 2022

Michigan’s public education system remains in a perennial rut, according to an annual state education report released Tuesday, and the state’s young readers are projected to fall farther behind their peers in other states by the end of the decade unless changes in school funding and resources for students are made.

Still Stalled: 2022 State of Michigan Education Report by education advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest said by 2030 Michigan is projected to be 39th in the nation for fourth-grade reading performance — down from its current ranking of 32nd — if nothing changes.

Michigan is in the bottom 10 states for Black students in fourth-grade reading, according to the 2019 National Assessment for Educational Progress, which is the most recent available national assessment data.

Other leading states showed steady gains in student performance over the last 16 years, yet Michigan’s fourth-grade reading scores have stagnated, said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest.

Between 2003 and 2019, Michigan’s performance in fourth-grade reading — an important predictor of a child’s future academic success and life outcomes, according to education experts — remained stagnant on the test while leading education states — Massachusetts and Tennessee — made significant progress.

With the release of the report, a statewide coalition of business, civil rights, and civic leaders called on state leaders to invest in and accelerate the educational recovery of Michigan’s students. It also comes amid growing concerns about Michigan’s economic competitiveness and its connection to the state’s educational outcomes.

Alice Thompson, chair of the education committee at the Detroit Branch NAACP, said if Michigan had a fair school funding system, its Black and Latino students, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students living in high poverty districts would receive a 100% weighted, equitable funding formula.

“This funding would eliminate the achievement gap and foster a solid path for mastery of grade-level proficiency, embodied with a high degree of social and emotional support,” Thompson said.

Arellano said the state’s longstanding stagnation in student achievement comes as 2021 results from the M-STEP suggest that student achievement growth slowed overall for Michigan students — with the greatest impact on underserved students.

“While these results are clearly troubling, they also represent an opportunity for our state to create a ‘new normal,’ where every student has the opportunity to achieve and where students with the greatest needs receive the funding and resources they need to succeed,” Arellano said.

Michigan’s 2021 state assessment scores dropped in math and social studies for all grades tested while reading scores for older students improved slightly. Michigan students recently took state assessments in April and May. Those results are typically available in late summer.

From 2003 to 2019, Michigan’s Latino students improved in early reading at a rate that was about one-third of the progress Latino students were making nationwide. At the same time, improvement in fourth-grade reading for Michigan’s White students is in the bottom five states, according to data from the 2019 NAEP.

Deidre Lambert-Bounds, a member of the Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity coalition, said her hope is that every child has the ability to achieve at their highest ability without the barrier of inequitable funding.

“For far too long, we have not done a good job of properly funding education in a way that the students with the most needs receive funding commensurate with those needs,” said Lambert-Bounds, who is also president of Ignite Social Media. “I have a dream that we finally work together to put a proper funding formula in place that results in the highest quality educational outcomes for our children.”

Other findings from the report:

• Michigan has ranked 43rd of 47 states in the nation for funding gaps that negatively impact low-income students. Additionally, teachers in Michigan’s wealthiest districts are paid about $8,600 more, on average, than teachers in Michigan’s poorest districts.

• Nearly 1 of every 4 Michigan students — about 23% — were required to take at least one remedial course in two- and four-year college or university programs. The percentage for historically underserved groups such as Black students is 43.8%.

• Michigan has the nation’s sixth-highest out-of-school suspension rate for Black students. Advocates have argued suspensions and expulsions are overused in Michigan and across the country, particularly for students of color.

In February, researchers announced that after more than three full school years into Michigan’s controversial Read by Grade Three law, 52% of Michigan’s third-grade students had a “reading deficiency” between first and third grade and the rates were higher among historically marginalized student groups.

The report used data gathered in the spring of 2021 from nearly 9,000 educators and is the second year of a four-year evaluation of the law by Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, and her team.

View the entire article.

Read the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2022 State of Education Report at the link below.

2022 State of Education Report

Christy McDonald

Christy McDonaldChristy McDonald is the managing editor and anchor of One Detroit. She also anchored special coverage for WTVS Detroit PBS, including documentaries, live news events, and the Mackinac Policy Conference. McDonald appeared numerous times on the PBS NewsHour and CNN reporting on Michigan politics and Detroit’s financial crisis.

A sought-after moderator and speaker, McDonald has led lively discussions at the Detroit Economic Club, Detroit Policy Conference, Mackinac Policy Conference, International Women’s Day events, and Business Leaders for Michigan’s CEO Summit, among others. McDonald also co-moderated Gubernatorial debates in 2014 and 2018. She has appeared on WDET public radio as a guest host/panelist, and a featured guest on the syndicated radio show Remarkable Women and WJR’s Anything is Possible.

McDonald also connected with Detroit viewers for 10 years on WXYZ-TV and has received numerous reporting honors from the Associated Press, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and Society of Professional Journalists.

McDonald is a graduate of Michigan State University’s James Madison College with a degree in Political Philosophy.

Bill Huizenga

Congressman Bill Huizenga represents Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District, currently serving in his sixth term.

As a House Financial Services Committee member, Huizenga has focused on removing government-imposed barriers to private-sector job creation and increasing transparency across the federal government. He also serves as Ranking Member on the Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets Subcommittee.

Huizenga has focused oversight efforts on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s operations, activities, and initiatives. Huizenga is also serving on the Housing, Community Development, and Insurance Subcommittee.

Since January 2017, Huizenga has served as a co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force and has successfully rallied bipartisan support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This program aims to preserve and protect the Great Lakes ecology while also promoting opportunities for the Great Lakes economy.

Huizenga is also a founding member of the bipartisan PFAS Task Force, which focuses on PFAS education and crafting legislation to help communities recover from PFAS contamination.

Huizenga holds his bachelor’s degree in political science from Calvin College.

Business leaders silent so far on the fate of abortion access in Michigan

Bridge Detroit
Paula Gardner

May 4, 2022

DETROIT — Michigan business leaders join their peers across the nation in trying to figure out how they should react to often-divisive social and state policies that affect their communities and their employees, with the focus now landing on whether to take a stand on abortion access.

However, decisions on when and how to weigh in are not easy, Andy Johnston, vice president for government affairs at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce told Bridge Michigan.

One sign of the risk is the fallout to the Walt Disney Co., which initially was criticized for being silent on Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill — and then watched Republican lawmakers take retribution when it came out against the measure.

“Many of our communities are facing this major polarization and fractious political divide,” said Johnston, who has been part of national business discussions on it. “So many of our chambers are always struggling (with) where do you draw the line of engagement to some of these issues?

“It can almost feel like we can never do enough for either side.”

The result so far, as the state considers how it would respond to the apparent reversal of Roe v. Wade and possible new abortion restrictions, is general silence from the business community.

Both abortion-rights and anti-abortion advocates mobilized Tuesday to fundraise, plan their next steps and try to sway public opinion in their direction. A growing part of similar efforts in recent years is enlisting corporate support on watershed moments of public import — such as the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol to halt certification of the presidential election, or the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The state’s biggest employers and business advocacy organizations have yet to comment on a leaked draft of a majority Supreme Court opinion that would, if it holds up, overturn Roe and reactivate a 1931 Michigan criminal law that would make abortion a felony in most instances.

Unclear is whether business will take a leadership role on the issue as the Supreme Court finalizes its decision, likely in June, and both Democratic and Republican leaders and party officials gauge what that will mean for Michigan.

Abortion, Johnston said, is not an issue that’s been discussed as a business priority.

To be sure, the issue has significant ramifications not only for women, but for businesses in Michigan, where 51.3 percent of the labor force was female in 2021 — about 1 percent higher than pre-pandemic.

Addressing abortion is “a weird tightrope,” said Alexis Wiley, principal at Moment Strategies, a strategic communications firm in Detroit.

Speaking up could lead to backlash. However, Wiley said, staying silent may carry its own repercussions, particularly if a business caters to women and already advocates for women’s issues.

Wiley’s advice to businesses considering whether and how to state a position as Michigan prepares for a ballot issue this November to change the state Consitution to allow abortions is to understand that controversy is likely to follow.

“Those who speak need to be committed to meaningful action,” Wiley said. “The big concern … is being viewed as hollow. This is a movement where platitudes are not wanted.”

Wiley continued: “If you’re interested in being vague, this is not the conversation for you.”

When it comes to reproductive rights, “every business has to make their own decision,” said Arn Tellem, vice chair of the Detroit Pistons and this year’s chair of the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Making those decisions has sometimes been fraught for companies in an increasingly polarized political climate.

The National Association of Manufacturers was among the first advocacy groups to react to the January 6, 2021, insurrection by calling it “mob rule” and “sedition.”

Michigan business leaders urged the state Legislature not to disenfranchise voters when Republican lawmakers proposed a 39-bill package that would tighten voting rules in April 2021. That followed a show of corporate support in the fight against similar bills in Georgia.

Business voices also expressed concern and support for the nation’s racial reckoning following the police killing of Floyd and urged state Republican and Democratic leaders to unite over COVID-19 safety measures that often divided the business community itself.

“Business leaders have felt more of a responsibility to speak out on public policy issues than certainly any other time in my lifetime,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, during a media gathering to outline Mackinac Policy Conference.

The theme of this year’s conference, planned for May 31-June 2 on Mackinac Island, is “The business community’s changing civic role in polarizing times.”

Tellem said business leaders recognize that there are “certain issues where we have a responsibility to speak out,” including the 2021 state voting rights controversy.

That, he said, “was one issue that galvanized the business (community) because that is essential to part of our American values, of our American democracy.”

While many spoke out at that time, Tellem said, “You can’t speak out on everything.”

Yet, Baruah said, many employers are trusted to provide factual information to their employees and the public. Figuring out their roles amid social change is important so that they can maintain that trust, he added.

But reaction to public statements on social issues can leave businesses gun shy about weighing in on divisive topics due to harsh reaction from the side that disagrees, Johnston said.

Some business leaders are consulting more with their workers about how that message should be delivered, he added, particularly on issues like racial equity that have the potential to affect recruiting.

This year’s goal of the Mackinac Policy Conference, Tellem said, is for business leaders on both sides of the abortion decision to gain understanding of other viewpoints. Other issues also will be discussed.

“It’ll help inform us, too, so when the next crisis or next issue comes up, businesses will be better suited and better able to make (their) decisions.”

In Texas, which made its abortion laws more restrictive in fall 2021, some national businesses altered employee policies. Amazon, for example, told its workers in across the U.S. that it will reimburse them for trips for abortion services or other non-life threatening medical services.

Amazon’s decision followed similar moves in Texas by Citicorp, Yelp! and Apple, all of which experts said were initiated to retain employees. Uber and Lyft told drivers that they would pay for legal bills if drivers are sued for transporting people to abortions.

Those companies conveyed their moves to employees in staff-only emails or company meetings, not in public statements — such as the ones by the Walt Disney Company when it criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in schools.

Disney made the statements after impacted members of its workforce and their supporters complained about the lack of support as Republicans moved legislation unfriendly to the LGBTQ community. When it did speak out against the school bill, the Republican Legislature initiated tax bills impacting the company.

Following the bombshell story Tuesday on the Supreme Court’s likely abortion ruling, Levi Strauss & Co., became the first major company to address the issue, telling the New York Times that restricting abortion access could have “far-reaching consequences for the American work force, the U.S. economy and our nation’s pursuit of gender and racial equity.”

With some issues, companies may feel like there’s no way to win, said Johnston of the Grand Rapids chamber. Their workforce may expect one action, while the community could anticipate another.

Business chamber groups often try to stay “the sane center” in a controversy, Johnston said, but that only goes so far today.

The Grand Rapids chamber must prioritize its most pressing business policy issues for its advocacy.

Today, its members are concerned about the labor force and finding enough workers, a critical issue made worse by the pandemic. Unclear so far is what changes in abortion laws in Michigan will mean, so for now it’s not a chamber priority, Johnston said. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is in a similar position, a representative told Bridge, as it isn’t hearing abortion access being addressed by members.

“We’re supposed to be a place where a bunch of people can live (even if) they don’t agree on a lot,” Johnston said, “but we live together peacefully and we agree on big-picture ideas.

“It’s gotten a lot harder.”

View the entire article.

5 of 10 Republican candidates invited to gubernatorial debate at Mackinac Policy Conference

Melissa Frick
May 13, 2022

DETROIT, MI – Only half of the declared Republican candidates in the running for Michigan Governor were invited to participate in a GOP gubernatorial debate at the 2022 Mackinac Policy Conference next month.

The Detroit Regional Chamber invited five of the state’s 10 GOP gubernatorial hopefuls to participate in the June 2 debate, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel, the Chamber announced this week.

The five candidates on the roster are James Craig, Perry Johnson, Ryan Kelley, Kevin Rinke, and Garrett Soldano, according to a Chamber news release.

The five gubernatorial candidates who were not invited to participate include Mike Brown, Tudor Dixon, Michael Markey Jr., Ralph Rebandt, and Donna Brandenburg. They were invited to attend the Mackinac Policy Conference, but not to participate in the debate, the Chamber said.

According to the Chamber, the participants selected for the debate were identified as the “top five” most well-known candidates based on a recent statewide survey of Republican primary voters.

The survey, conducted by The Glengariff Group Inc., polled 500 likely August 2022 Republican Primary voters between April 29 and May 1. Survey respondents were read the names of all 10 filed candidates in alphabetical order and asked who they would support as the GOP nominee for governor.

Nearly 45% of respondents said they don’t know yet who they’re voting for. But polling showed Craig, the former Detroit police chief, was the preferred candidate with 23% support from respondents. He was the only candidate with a double-digit lead.

Soldano, a Kalamazoo chiropractor, came in second with 8.2% of support from respondents. Rinke, a Bloomfield Hills businessman, earned 5.6% of support from respondents. Just below that came Kelley, an Allendale real estate broker, at 5.4%; and Johnson, a Bloomfield Hills entrepreneur, at 5.2%.

Brown, Dixon, Markey Jr., Rebandt, and Brandenburg each garnered less than 3% of support from respondents, according to the survey results. See the entire survey here.

The Chamber noted that the debate lineup could be subject to change based on future polling, if “new, public, independent polling further identifies additional competitive candidates.”

The lineup could also change if the Board of State Canvassers rules on ongoing ballot petition challenges involving Craig, Johnson, and Dixon, the Chamber said.

“The Mackinac Policy Conference is pleased to welcome Michigan’s Republican Gubernatorial hopefuls to Michigan’s Center Stage as they present their vision for our state’s future,” said Sandy Baruah, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber, in a prepared statement. “We look forward to the candidates for Governor giving our attendees and a statewide audience their perspectives on Michigan’s future beyond campaign soundbites.”

The June 2 debate lineup was announced the same day that Republican candidates were scheduled for their first major debate ahead of the 2022 gubernatorial election.

On Thursday night, eight of the 10 GOP candidates faced off during a debate at the Livingston County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner in Howell. All 10 candidates were invited to participate, but Craig and Brandenburg did not attend.

The gubernatorial hopefuls debated everything from school funding and curriculum to abortions, COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election.

Michigan’s GOP primary election is scheduled for Aug. 2.

The winner will challenge Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November’s general election.

View the entire article.