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Brad Williams: 5 Ways Lawmakers Can Help Michigan’s Economy in Lame Duck

Crain’s Detroit Business

November 16, 2020

By Brad Williams

When the new Michigan House of Representatives is seated in January, our elected state leadership will face its most daunting challenge since the Great Depression, if not ever. And given how hard the Great Recession hit Michigan, that’s saying something.

The overarching goal for Lansing’s lame-duck session is clear. Michigan must put partisan politics aside and unite around efforts to accelerate its economy as it navigates COVID-19.

The lame-duck session needs to be a balance of addressing immediate challenges created by the pandemic, while continuing the long-term work needed to fundamentally prepare Michigan to better compete in the 21st century economy. This is achieved through better educational outcomes, bolstering our highly skilled workforce, fostering a more competitive business environment, and supporting the state’s leadership in mobility.

Much of that work will need to be advanced by the next Legislature, but substantive steps must occur before the end of the year.

There are five steps the Legislature can take in lame duck to better position Michigan for economic recovery in the year ahead.

Pass the PPE tax relief package: This legislation protects businesses by exempting PPE purchases from sales and use taxes and providing a refundable income tax credit to employers who maintain COVID-19 safety plans. Employers are taking the steps needed to protect employers and customers, but doing so comes at great expense and many more will be forced to close due to the undue burden created by the pandemic. This package provides much-needed relief by making PPE more affordable.

Reauthorize Good Jobs for Michigan program: The Good Jobs for Michigan rewards employers for creating better-paying jobs that meet or exceed the average wage of a region. The Legislature needs to reauthorize this program to help employers create good-paying jobs, which will strengthen our economy. As the state recovers from these calamitous public health and economic crises, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. needs every possible tool at its disposal, including this program.

Support Launch Michigan’s school funding equity plan: Equitable funding is key to fixing Michigan’s talent pipeline and developing the workforce needed to attract investment and create jobs. Equal funding does not translate to equal education, because different students have different needs and we should be funding them accordingly. The key is providing equitable funding as supported by Launch Michigan. This will not happen overnight, but a good first step is to adequately fund the K-12 Best Practices Center. Then, in 2021, we can strive toward spending equity in education by adding funding multipliers based on factors such as poverty rates and geographic isolation.

Advance infrastructure spending conversations through local option fuel taxes: The health and economic crises may have shifted the conversation away from Michigan’s major infrastructure needs, but that need has not lessened, and neither has the price tag. Allowing local counties to levy fuel taxes or registration fees to fund repairs of local roads as suggested by Rep. Jack O’Malley is one manageable step that can be taken now. Local option fuel taxes would give counties the ability to pursue local improvements and invest in roads and bridges community by community.

Incentivize statewide broadband access: One of the lessons of the pandemic is that we need to equip Michiganders to work or learn anywhere in the state, and that requires access to reliable broadband internet statewide. Achieving this will require incentives for the private sector to invest in infrastructure in areas, particularly rural ones, that currently do not make business sense.

There is not going to be one solution, party, or idea that allows Michigan to recover from COVID-19. It’s going to require a unified effort among elected leadership to take strategic steps where possible to accelerate the economy.

That effort cannot wait for the new legislative session. It must start in lame duck.

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