Jan. 29 | This Week in Government: 2021 State of the State Priorities; Latest Vaccine PlanJanuary 29, 2021
- Governor Pivots Back to Infrastructure with Local Gas Tax, Water Plan
- House GOP Offers Ultimatum on Federal Education Funding
- Whitmer Doubles Down on Vax Plan, Getting to 50K Per Day
- 2021 Senate GOP Priorities Include Health Care, Economy
- Hornberger, Wozniak Running for Vacant 8th Senate District Seat
After a year mostly consumed by the coronavirus pandemic and the many hurdles it put before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and the state, the governor moved back to infrastructure during her State of the State calling on the Legislature to pass a local funding option for roads and a water infrastructure improvement plan.
Gov. Whitmer, in her third State of the State address, pointed to a proposal introduced last term by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) and Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Burton) that would have allowed county-level fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees if passed by voters.
“As for your local roads and bridges, last session, legislation was introduced to give local communities more options so they can move some dirt too,” she said during her speech. “It’s a good idea – and it’s time for the Legislature to get it done.”
The Governor also reupped a proposal she floated in October for $500 million to help rebuild the state’s water infrastructure and give residents access to clean and affordable water.
Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), the chair of the House Transportation Committee, who introduced bills last session on the local fuel tax option, said he did not get much help from the governor’s office when he was working on the proposal.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “Let’s see what you do. Let’s have this conversation in 90 days or 100 days and see if anything changes. I hope it does.”
On if the appetite is there in the Legislature for this kind of proposal, O’Malley said he doesn’t know, but he does think there needs to be a sustainable source of long-term funding for roads and the fact that the cars will be using less fuel as more electric cars on the roads needs to be part of that discussion.
House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) said the state still needs to fix its roads, which hasn’t changed during the pandemic.
“So, when we look at the funds that are available, we have federal funds for our interstate highways, we have state of Michigan funds for state roads. It is our local roads that have proved to be a complex funding problem,” she said. “As someone who represents 14 townships with mostly local roads, I understand there is a craving and a need for locals to want to put some options out there to their residents to improve the roads that run in front of their houses and their businesses. I think this is an important place to explore those opportunities so we can make meaningful progress on the roads that run in front of our homes.”
The water infrastructure proposal includes federal dollars, state bonding authority, and existing state revenues, which a fact sheet from the governor’s office called a “historic investment,” that can be made without increasing taxes.
The proposal includes:
- $102 million to replace lead service lines in disadvantaged communities;
- $37.5 million for drinking water asset management grants;
- $25 million for consolidation and contamination risk reduction grants; and
- $7.5 million for affordability and planning grants.
It also would include $235 million for clean water infrastructure grants, $20 million for substantial public health risk grants, $35 million for eliminating failing septic systems, and $3 million for stormwater, asset management, and wastewater grants.
“It’s time for the Legislature to pass these bills so we can start rebuilding Michigan’s water infrastructure,” she said, noting the proposal would also help support 7,500 jobs. “I will keep working so every family in Michigan has clean, safe water.”
Lasinski said water, roads, and broadband are three key areas the state can invest while meaningfully putting people back to work as the pandemic subsides.
John LaMacchia, assistant director of state and federal affairs with the Michigan Municipal League, said there was no question that investment in infrastructure still needs to be a priority – pandemic aside.
“That investment at the local level is needed more than ever,” he said. “From our perspective we are excited to hear that as part of the speech and look forward to the ability to work with the Legislature and the administration and hopefully, in partnership, come to a solution on that. I will say, it is one piece of the puzzle when it comes to investing in our communities and making sure they have the resources necessary to recover as a whole.”
As neither of the plans are new initiatives – both having been introduced in some fashion previously – LaMacchia said individuals at the local level are interested in broadening their options in improving local roads and bridges but with that must also come a comprehensive solution from the Legislature to make sure this way of improving local infrastructure is sustainable long term.
“Not every community will be able to take advantage of a local option,” he said. “Any plan needs to be comprehensive, it should include … that ongoing partnership and revenue source that comes from the state, as well as expanding our ability at the local level to invest in ourselves.”
Asked if, among some of the solutions to local infrastructure funding, that meant a local fuel tax were possible, LaMacchia said that varied “member to member, community to community,” and it was hard to predict the likelihood of success anywhere in Michigan. Rather, LaMacchia said, it would be important for communities to not just consider traditional funding options for local transportation but other sustainable possibilities.
Given the pandemic and the economic recovery needed in various aspects of a community – schools, local businesses, infrastructure – LaMacchia said it underscored the need for a long-term sustainable funding option.
Ed Noyola, County Road Association of Michigan deputy director, expressed caution that a county-by-county approach would not bode well for more rural communities with a less disposable income for their transportation needs. He pointed to logging and mining as examples of industries that need to use rural roads to haul goods which, while important to the state’s economy, do increase the wear and tear caused to a community’s infrastructure.
“Once we get past COVID, we need to start looking at the revenue source and level that we need to maintain and improve what we have. … We have to recognize that in the outstate areas (things like) agriculture, mining – they need to be taken into consideration too. We just can’t look at population density as the driving factor for distributing money,” he said. “We need to look at what keeps the state going as a unit, not as individual jurisdictions.”
That concern was echoed by County Road Association Director Denise Donohue, who said that Michigan should be repairing more than 13,000 miles of road a year to keep up with damages done to them. Instead, it repairs somewhere around 6,000 miles. When considering that county road agencies are responsible for 75% of Michigan roads and 52% of its bridges, she said there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.
Still, she too acknowledged that giving communities more flexibility on road funding would be a good first step.
“We certainly commend the governor for putting this issue back center stage,” Donohue said. “We would certainly hope that local roads – which all of us drive, every single day and are such a large part of the system – are part of any solution moving forward. We’re hoping for bipartisan support from the legislature and the governor to move that ahead this year.”
The Michigan Association of Counties said in a statement it welcomed the Governor’s inclusion of infrastructure investments in her speech. Still, the group does not support a local gas tax option as implementation would be “nearly impossible.”
“However, we are open to other suggestions, such as a local option registration fee, and stand ready to partner with the governor and the Legislature to get a deal done,” MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie said.
The group did praise the water infrastructure programs the Governor proposed as essential.
Lance Binoniemi with the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association said in a statement Wednesday’s speech is an important step for this year’s legislative work, and the group is ready to help find bipartisan solutions to fix the state’s infrastructure problems.
“The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association applauds Governor Whitmer for prioritizing infrastructure investments and looks forward to working with her and our partners in the Legislature in the coming year,” Binoniemi said. “Poll after poll continues to show that Michigan’s roads continue to be a top priority for residents – second only to ending the pandemic. We also fully believe that funding underground water infrastructure is paramount to solving the decades-old problem of under-funded infrastructure in Michigan. The condition of our infrastructure not only impacts the financial health of our state, but the public health of our communities as well.”
House GOP Offers Ultimatum on Federal Education Funding
The Republican-led House will not allocate $2.1 billion in federal education funding unless the Governor agrees to surrender her administration’s power to close schools for in-person learning or sporting activities to local health departments, House Appropriations Chair Rep. Thomas Albert said Wednesday.
The move is likely a non-starter for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who has said she will not negotiate the administration’s powers for her office or any future office.
Overall, the proposal from Albert (R-Lowell) and House Republicans provides $3.5 billion in federal and state funds to help job providers and families, provide education funding with the caveat kids get back into school and are allowed to participate in sports, “and bring accountability to the governor’s floundering vaccine distribution program.”
The Governor’s proposal was $5.6 billion. The Republican plan does not appropriate all non-education federal funds allocated to the state, especially with Food Assistance, as it plans to do so quarterly.
Albert was not available for an interview Wednesday on the proposal.
Whitmer Communications Director Tiffany Brown said now is not the time for partisan games.
“We are pleased to see that House Republicans are embracing the key elements of Gov. Whitmer’s MI COVID Recovery Plan that prioritizes vaccine distribution, support for small businesses, and getting our kids back in the classroom,” Brown said in a statement. “Gov. Whitmer is ready and eager to work with Republicans in the Legislature to pass a bipartisan economic recovery plan that supports our small businesses and helps get families back on their feet. It is also crucial that we pass a plan that helps vaccinate our educators and puts more dollars into classrooms so we can get our kids back in school safely while staying focused on protecting public health.”
The House Republican supplemental focuses on helping businesses and families, getting kids back in school, boosting the vaccine rollout, and further ramping up testing.
The federal funds that are not school-related are included in HB 4019, federal funds and School Aid Fund dollars for schools are included in HB 4048 and HB 4047 includes General Fund dollars for business assistance. HB 4049 would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from closing a school for in-person instruction or prohibiting sporting events.
“People across Michigan are struggling mightily because of COVID restrictions, and this plan is laser-focused on getting them the help they need,” Albert said in a statement. “The goal here is to provide much-needed hope for job providers in danger of closing their doors forever, families struggling to stay above water, and school kids suffering academically and emotionally.”
Republicans continue to call the state’s vaccine rollout a failure, but compared to other neighboring states, Michigan is ahead of most or almost even in many metrics related to getting shots in arms.
Data posted to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows Michigan has administered 7,432 vaccines per 100,000 residents, which works out to be 6,119 per 100,000 for the first dose and 1,201 per 100,000 for the second dose.
For Wisconsin, the state has administered 5,463 doses per 100,000 residents, 4,604 per 100,000 for the first dose, and 825 per 100,000 for the second dose. Illinois has administered 5,824 per 100,000 residents and 4,658 per 100,000 for first dose and 1,108 per 100,000 for the second dose.
Indiana has administered 7,410 doses per 100,000 residents and 6,149 per 100,000 for the first dose and 1,258 per 100,000 for the second dose.
Finally, Ohio has administered 6,057 doses per 100,000 residents and 5,367 for the first dose, and 687 per 100,000 for the second dose.
Included in the proposal is $22 million quarterly “for closer monitoring and accountability in the Governor’s troubled distribution plan.” This would also be tied to a condition that the state could not impose vaccination mandates. The Governor has not said she would issue a vaccination mandate.
It also proposes $144 million quarterly for testing. This item also says it would improve oversight and accountability.
On schools, the plan would provide $363 million School Aid Fund, or $250 per pupil, for schools committing to reopening for in-person instruction by Feb.15. The governor has encouraged schools to offer in-person instruction by March 1. Most school districts are moving toward an in-person option.
During a hearing Wednesday, lawmakers acknowledged given the tying of funds to the administration reducing its authority, negotiations will likely take more time. Albert said schools should be in good funding shape until March, so it does not appear lawmakers are eying passage before mid-February.
The law passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed by the Governor ultimately leaves the decision to open for in-person instruction to local districts. The Governor did close high schools for in-person instruction for three weeks late last year and a DHHS order continues to ban some contact sports.
Albert, during a hearing Wednesday afternoon, said the governor threw away the bipartisan plan when the DHHS order closed just high schools for in-person instruction for three weeks as coronavirus case numbers rose.
The plan would also offer $12 million in federal funding to cover benchmark assessments and $157.4 million federal for COVID-19 remediation services, distributed as follows:
- $90.0 million for summer programs for grades K-8;
- $45.0 million for high school credit recovery programs; and
- $22.4 million for before and/or after school programs.
Eligible districts, intermediate school districts, or consortium of districts could receive $550 for each student in a K-8 summer program, $550 for each student in a credit recovery program, and up to $25,000 for a before and/or after school program.
Another $21 million would help teachers and support staff assist students in catching up on learning during the summer by providing $1,000 incentive payments for teachers and $250 for support staff and $5.8 million to help parents use summer school programs offset transportation, tutoring, and other costs, in the form of a payment of up to $250 per student.
Additionally, the roughly $1.5 billion in federal funding for schools to be distributed through the Title I formula is included in the plan.
Some school groups slammed Republicans for using the federal funding as a bargaining chip.
“It’s important that our lawmakers have an active role in ensuring that schools receive the resources they need to educate Michigan’s children. We appreciate the House GOP’s recognition that there are many additional costs schools and other industries face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, federal dollars for learning should not be used as a bargaining chip,” Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said in a statement. “A bipartisan vote of Congress sent $1.6 billion in aid to Michigan schools and district leaders need that money to be appropriated now – without caveat or consideration of politics. Doing so ensures that we can plan for in-person instruction, remedial education, summer programming, the procurement of PPE, and so many other variables that will positively impact our students, while ensuring their health and safety. The debate among adults about separation of powers and decision-making authority should not hold hostage these desperately needed funds for our schools and, ultimately, Michigan’s children.”
K-12 Alliance of Michigan Executive Director Robert McCann said in a statement Congress intentionally left no discretion to states on how the federal education funding could be used.
“The Michigan Legislature has only one job as it relates to this funding: allocate it. Holding critical school funding hostage as part of a political squabble goes beyond ugly partisan politics: It is immoral and fundamentally unacceptable,” McCann said. “Students, teachers and staff have faced far too much during this pandemic to now have to worry about becoming pawns in a grossly miscalculated political stunt.”
The Great Lakes Education Project, though, praised the House Republican action.
“Michigan students deserve open classrooms, and parents deserve support,” GLEP Executive Director Beth DeShone said. “The science, the data, and the physicians have made the case for in-person learning for nearly a year. The legislation introduced today is a critical and welcome step towards getting Michigan kids back in school and putting power back in the hands of families and local communities, not bureaucrats in Lansing.”
For businesses and families, the proposal would provide:
- $150 million General Fund for the Unemployment Trust Fund to help offset the cost of fraudulent claims paid by the Unemployment Insurance Agency;
- $55 million General Fund to create an unemployment insurance tax relief program to provide grants to businesses;
- $300 million General Fund to create a property tax relief program to provide grants for afflicted businesses;
- $38.5 million to reimburse liquor and health department inspection fees;
- $22 million to waive property tax penalties and fees;
- $165 million in rent and utility relief; and
- $510 million for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Business groups praised the proposal as offering much-needed relief to employers, particularly smaller ones who have struggled most.
“The pandemic has already led to countless business closures and thousands of other businesses just barely hanging on,” Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley said in a statement. “We don’t have time or money to waste, and this plan provides meaningful help and hope for the road ahead.”
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) called the Wednesday proposal the best way forward for the people of Michigan.
“I look forward to working with the House and Senate to build the best possible support for the many working families who are struggling right now across our state,” he said. “The House plan is the best option to get relief in the hands of people who need it. It phases in money over time to match the increase in vaccination capacity. It finally increases accountability on the state’s struggling vaccination rollout. It gives children and parents the in-person schooling they need with greater local control. And it focuses all funding on COVID relief instead of the political pet projects and corporate welfare the governor included. Michigan families need direct relief and a real, thought-out plan. The House plan introduced today delivers that for people in need.”
Whitmer Doubles Down on Vax Plan, Getting to 50K Per Day
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during her State of the State address on Wednesday reassured the public everyone who wants a coronavirus vaccine will eventually get one, something business and health associations said was crucial to get the economy back on track.
In her speech, Gov. Whitmer touted bipartisan achievements from the past year on topics like criminal justice reform amid deep political division and sharp criticism from Republicans in the legislative branch. On Wednesday, Gov. Whitmer said she will need their assistance as a united front to “fix the damn road ahead,” which relies on increased vaccine efforts to help end the pandemic.
“The coming months will determine the strength of our economic recovery. Let’s end this pandemic. … I invite the Legislature to partner with me on the health of our people, the education of our kids, and the resurgence of our economy,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Let’s get the MI COVID Recovery Plan passed immediately.”
Gov. Whitmer’s call comes the same day Republicans in the House released their own supplemental spending plan to combat COVID, which included an ultimatum for the Governor, and Senate Republicans rejected 13 of her appointees to show displeasure in her pandemic response (see separate stories).
Gov. Whitmer said Wednesday she aims to use federal funding to bring Michigan closer to its stated goal of administering 50,000 vaccines per day. Funding will help provide financial support to local health departments for administrative vaccine costs, like staffing, as well as equipment and supplies.
In a separate fact sheet disseminated before the address, the state also plans to receive $575 million to expand diagnostic testing, contact tracing, and lab testing capacity.
As of Tuesday, Gov. Whitmer said the state has administered 800,000 COVID-19 vaccines, which she said places the state as sixth in terms of vaccines administered and 14th in those administered per 100,000 residents. A separate fact sheet noted that two weeks ago, Michigan was 9th in the nation in vaccines administered and 32nd in those administered per 100,000 residents.
Touching on the slow vaccine rollout, which has been a new point of criticism lobbed at Gov. Whitmer in recent days, the governor said the state simply does not have the supplies it needs to vaccinate everyone just yet.
“The fact of the matter is: we don’t have the supply we need yet, but we will. And the good news is that we do have a plan to get 50,000 shots in arms per day when the supply comes in,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Every eligible Michigander who wants a vaccine will get one. This process is like a locomotive – it will be cumbersome and slow in the beginning, but it will get faster and smoother as we go. I just ask for patience as our frontline workers work around the clock to get shots in arms.”
Gov. Whitmer restated Michigan’s previous goal of having at least 70% of residents 16 years old and older vaccinated as soon as possible, though did not offer a definitive timeline. State health officials had previously hoped to have reached that goal by the summer and fall of 2021.
A fact sheet noted that state is working with health care systems and local health departments to provide safe and effective vaccines across the state while also partnering with pharmacies to vaccinate skilled nursing and long-term care residents.
Frontline workers, particularly those in direct health care occupations and educators, have been a focus for Gov. Whitmer since the pandemic began.
Michigan’s teachers and school staff again took precedence in the governor’s address as she further detailed the MI Classroom Heroes Grants.
The grants were a part of Gov. Whitmer’s September 2020 budget proposal, giving $500 starting in February to eligible teachers and support staff who transitioned into at-home instruction during school closures. Eligible staff and teachers had to have worked primarily in brick-and-mortar school settings before the state started enacted strict COVID-19 measures last year.
Health care workers also received a mention, as Gov. Whitmer touted the temporary $2 an hour raise for such workers, which has been extended several times. She also said it was time for the Legislature to make the pay raise permanent, as it was, “not enough to just say ‘thank you,’ we need to show support.”
Additionally, the governor said more than 82,000 frontline workers have been accepted into her Futures for Frontliners program, modeled after the G.I. Bill, giving tuition-free postsecondary education opportunities to those who worked in public while many others had the opportunity to work from home.
Regarding economic recovery plans, the governor said the pandemic has taken, “a massive toll on our small businesses and the people they employ,” and the state has stepped up even as the federal government failed.
That work will continue with her Michigan COVID Recovery Plan and through her newly announced Michigan back to work plan.
“My plan includes a call on the Legislature to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks,” Gov. Whitmer said. “This would bring Michigan in line with 40 other states and provide hard-hit Michigan workers with the financial security and peace of mind they deserve. My plan gives crucial support for small businesses and resources to help them thrive long after the pandemic is over.”
Among the more concrete plans, the governor proposed $225 million for three new programs borne out of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. They include a Michigan Mainstreet Initiative to help stabilize the small business community by securing grants for restaurants and other place-based businesses; a Michigan Microenterprise Support Initiative to help small businesses with less than nine employees on the path to recovery through greater access to support; and a Business Accelerator and Resiliency Initiative to provide grants to high-tech startups that can help communities thrive.
While much pandemic relief has been aimed at easing health inequities in urban communities with predominately Black and Latino residents, rural communities would see support from an Office of Rural Development, which the governor plans to create, which will coordinate work across the state to address access to broadband, talent, and infrastructure, among others.
Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, in a statement said the governor’s goal to eventually vaccinate 50,000 people per day is “critically important.”
“Vaccinating as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, is not only vital to the public’s overall health and well-being, it is also necessary in returning our economy and education system back to where they need it to be,” he said. “Michigan physicians strongly support the governor’s goal and will continue their work on the frontlines of this pandemic to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is administered to residents across our state.”
In interviews following Gov. Whitmer’s address, various heads of associations representing nursing homes and business leaders across the state said getting a handle on the pandemic and reopening the economy at full stride go hand in hand.
“I just think it’s such a ripple effect. … We have to get those businesses open we have to get the virus under control to get our facilities back open we have to, you know, absolutely, continue to move in that direction (because) we want to connect families back to loved ones,” said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of Health Care Association of Michigan. “Because we know it’s just not the virus itself, it’s crippling damage that it does on everything else. I mean it’s COVID itself but then it’s the effects of the mental and the other physical impacts, and then our livelihoods. It’s so connected, and one leads to the other to the other.”
Samuel also said she appreciated the governor’s call to make permanent the $2 raise, adding that her association would welcome it as it has helped many of its direct care staff.
Jeff Donofrio, the former head of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the current president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, shared similar sentiments about the virus and the economy.
“I think the governor talking about how different the year has been with the crisis at hand, which, of course, the number one issue we have for the economy is getting the pandemic in the rearview. We’ve got to get this behind us before we can start this recovery, sustain and then we can begin growing in the way that we all hope to,” Donofrio said. “So, that vaccine distribution is top of everybody’s minds as priorities, making sure that we get to herd immunity. And I think she hit on that multiple times during this speech. And it’s certainly something that I think the business community is very focused on as well.”
Among the challenges, Donofrio said, is the fact that Michigan’s growth following the previous economic recession was still catching up, and that the needs of small businesses have only grown as their plight has grown through the pandemic as well.
“You’re going to see a lot of communities where there’s a vacancy because a small business shut down or it hollows out a community,” he said. “So, how do we make sure that we’re helping those communities grow while helping businesses both sustain themselves but also be created anew? That’s going to be really critical and you can see that our polling, too, voters in Michigan believe the top issue that lawmakers and policymakers should be considering is helping small businesses coming out of this. So, it’s a real emphasis that I think is felt across the state.”
The focus on talent and renewed bipartisanship were also highlights for Donofrio, saying he believed the Governor struck the right tone for the challenges ahead.
In a statement, Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K Baruah said Gov. Whitmer’s address included several initiatives that it has previously championed and “are wins for the business community.”
“The Governor’s support for allowing local governments to raise revenue to address regional transportation needs infrastructure and renewing the state’s signature economic development program, Good Jobs for Michigan, mark clear wins for the chamber’s advocacy efforts,” Baruah said. “The Chamber will continue to work with the Governor and legislators in both parties as we navigate the post-COVID recovery.”
Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association President Justin Winslow said in a statement the group was encouraged to hear the Governor’s commitment to increased vaccinations and helping residents get on their feet after economic hardships.
“We maintain that there is no faster way to build back better than through the systematic, expedited vaccination of Michigan’s hospitality industry. Michigan hotels and restaurants represent 10% of the state’s GDP and more than 12% of its workforce, yet have lost 3,000 restaurants and more than 200,000 jobs since the onset of the pandemic,” Winslow said. “Vaccination will provide safety to frontline workers, allow for the stable reintegration of Michigan’s second largest employer and restore public confidence that they may safely dine and travel once again. Our members stand ready to partner with the governor to provide free vaccination sites at hotel banquet and convention spaces across the state.”
2021 Senate GOP Priorities Include Health Care, Economy
The Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday rolled out its list of key priorities for 2021, highlighted by a focus on many of the health care and economic issues members have pushed in their fight against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of executive powers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Key areas of focus for the caucus are in rebuilding the economy, reopening the remaining closed businesses safely while delivering targeted relief and protecting the livelihoods of Michigan families, among others.
“The Senate Republicans believe every Michigander deserves the opportunity to live and prosper in a safe, healthy community,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said in a statement. “Senate Republicans are committed to building on opportunities to give Michigan families and communities greater piece of mind about the future.”
The caucus outlined 19 total items under three general categories: “Healthier Families and Communities,” “A Healthier Economy” and “A Healthier Future.” The caucus priorities were general in nature and didn’t include specific policies.
Under the first category, Republican priorities include protecting the public from COVID-19, protecting livelihoods of all Michigan families, and supporting seniors to live in healthy, safe environments.
Senate Republicans also said they want to focus on providing improved access to mental and physical health care, improving affordability, and ensuring safe and secure communities.
For economic health, the focus is on workforce development, attracting and retaining talent, attracting new businesses and investment, and preparing students for future jobs.
The Republicans also pledged to focus on providing targeted relief to small businesses to enable businesses to reopen and recover from what the caucus has for months said is unwise executive orders from the governor and her administration.
“Over the past several months, our citizens have endured confusing and oppressive orders from the governor,” Shirkey said. “The result is a failed vaccination plan for Michigan; closure policies that jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of hardworking families; and, students that are at risk of falling behind. It’s unacceptable. The Senate Republicans are committed to doing better and prioritizing the health of our families and communities, our economy, and our future.”
For the final general area of priorities, Republicans listed getting students back to school as well as restoring a more collaborative balance in state government with the Legislature having more of a say in policy.
Republicans for months have urged a safe reopening of schools over concerns they have expressed of potential negative impacts of remote learning compared to in-person instruction. However, the law around schools during the pandemic passed by the Legislature allowed local districts to decide how they would handle in-person or remote offerings.
Other priorities for the Republicans included restoring the public’s faith in elections, improving the state’s infrastructure systems, and highlighting the state’s natural resources.
Sen. Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Township) was among the members that Shirkey had worked on gathering input and crafting the list of priorities. In a statement, Victory said the priorities are significant issues that need to be addressed by the state.
“Although we’re still facing significant challenges, I am confident that we can achieve positive results for the good folks of Ottawa County and throughout Michigan,” Victory said.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) in a statement said the Republican majority should work with the governor instead of pointing fingers at her over executive orders.
“Did they forget that they hold the gavel? You’ll notice that a number of these so-called priorities for the Republicans are things that Senate Democrats have been calling for for months,” Ananich said. “At some point, the Republican majority is going to have to realize they are the only ones standing in the way of progress for Michigan residents. The hard truth is that they’d rather complain, point fingers, and blame the governor – as they did in their press release – when we could be passing bills in at least two-thirds of these priority areas with strong bipartisan support.”
Hornberger, Wozniak Running for Vacant 8th Senate District Seat
A competitive Republican primary between two House members emerged Monday with the announcement by one member of her intent to run for the open eighth Senate District seat and the other filing a campaign committee for the race.
On Monday, a campaign committee listing for Rep. Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Township) was posted to the Bureau of Elections campaign finance website.
Minutes later Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township) sent out a release announcing her campaign. Earlier this month she had told Gongwer News Service she would weigh a possible bid for the seat over the coming weeks.
The eighth Senate District seat is one of two vacant seats in strongly Republican districts up for special election, with the primary elections to be held in August and the general elections in November. Peter Lucido previously represented the district but won election in November 2020 to the office of Macomb County prosecutor and resigned at the end of last month.
“It has been an honor serving the residents of Macomb and St. Clair counties in Lansing, and I look forward to continuing to work hard for the community,” Hornberger said in a statement. “I love Macomb and know that my track record as a fierce advocate for children and a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars is Macomb residents need.”
Hornberger is in her third and final term in the House. She chairs the House Education Committee.
She was a L’Anse Creuse Public Schools Board of Education trustee from 2010-16 prior to being elected to the House.
A House staff member for Wozniak said Monday that the representative did not have anything to add except that he is running for the seat, and a formal announcement will be issued sometime in the next week.
Wozniak is in his second term in the House, where he is vice-chair of the House Families, Seniors and Veterans Committee.
He runs a law firm that he founded. Prior to being elected to the House, Wozniak also served as a Shelby Township trustee.
Democrat Kelly Noland also filed last week for the race. Noland ran unsuccessfully in the August 2020 Democratic primary for the 10th U.S. House District seat.
The district is solidly Republican, meaning whoever wins the GOP primary will be virtually assured of winning the seat.