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Nov. 19 | This Week in Government: Biden Touts Electric Vehicles During Detroit GM Factory Visit; September Unemployment Rate Revised Upward 1.7 Points

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. Biden Touts Electric Vehicles During Detroit GM Factory Visit
  2. September Unemployment Rate Revised Upward 1.7 Points
  3. GOP U.S. Reps Call Infrastructure Law ‘Build Back Broke Plan’
  4. Theis Urges School Boards To Adopt Strict COVID Vaccine Policies
  5. Broadband Tax Exemption Bills Reintroduced

Biden Touts Electric Vehicles During Detroit GM Factory Visit

President Joe Biden hailed the expansion of electric vehicles during his visit Wednesday to General Motors’ Factory ZERO after signing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law earlier in the week, saying for the first time in 20 years the United States is investing more in its infrastructure than China.

Biden also showered praise on the Michigan Democratic congressional delegation, thanking U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) extensively for her efforts to get the infrastructure bill passed.

The historic investment is anticipated to create thousands of jobs. Biden said union members will install roughly 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles across the country and GM promised to install 40,000 public charging stations. GM CEO Mary Barra announced at the beginning of the year that by 2035, the company would be 100 percent electric.

The president promised to replace cars in the federal fleet with union-made electric vehicles, saying the process to build the cars would start in Michigan.

“We’re going to make sure the jobs of the future end up here in Michigan, not half-way around the world,” Biden says. “That means here in Detroit, you’re going to set a new pace for electric vehicles. This is not hyperbole. This is a fact.”

The infrastructure law and the Build Back Better Plan, Biden said, will kickstart new batteries, materials and parts production and recycling. Federal agencies also plan to boost the manufacturing of electric vehicles with new loans and tax credits, hoping to create consumer incentives for purchasing new cleaner vehicles.

Estimating 10 million lead pipes in homes and 400,000 lead pipes servicing public schools, Biden also said the funding would help hire tens of thousands of plumbers to begin service line replacement. About $10 billion is dedicated to eliminating PFAS in contaminated regions across the country.

Biden also touched on expanding broadband, saying nearly 400,000 people in the state lack access to high-speed wireless internet.

“Look, this law is going to make high-speed internet affordable and available everywhere in America,” Biden said. “Create jobs laying down that broadband line. Today, 14 percent of Michigan households don’t have an internet subscription.”

Earlier in the day, members of the Michigan GOP congressional delegation said many Michiganders in rural areas did not have access to broadband, thus making it harder to place electric vehicle charging stations in those areas. U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township) said the president was being unrealistic to push for electric vehicles in rural areas without access to broadband (see related story).

At the GM Factory, Biden again promised that Americans making less than $400,000 would not see their federal taxes increase. He repeatedly said, “it’s all paid for” and promised to tax corporations more. According to the president, at least 55 corporations last year did not pay anything in federal taxes.

Throughout his speech, Biden commended the middle class, at one point calling the infrastructure law the “Blue Collar Blueprint.” He finished the night by saying he has no problem with people on Wall Street, but they did not build America.

“The middle-class built America and unions built the middle class,” Biden said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was noticeably absent from the president’s visit. Bobby Leddy, Whitmer’s press secretary, said the governor was meeting with the Semiconductor Industry Association Board of Directors to discuss ongoing efforts to increase domestic chip production and innovation. A shortage of chips over the past year has been an ongoing concern in the auto industry.

“These conversations follow the governor’s action last week to join a bipartisan coalition of governors calling on Congress to pass the CHIPS Act to support Michigan’s automotive and manufacturing industry amidst the ongoing chip shortage,” Leddy said. “And it highlights the state’s ongoing commitment to landing historic investments in the automotive sector, like the KLA and SK Siltron investments, which will create more than one thousand good-paying, high-tech jobs and bring hundreds of millions of dollars to our state’s economy.”


September Unemployment Rate Revised Upward 1.7 Points

Seasonally adjusted unemployment in Michigan was revised upward for the month of September from 4.6 percent to 6.3 percent, the state announced Wednesday, because of inaccuracies in federal estimates.

The Department of Technology, Management and Budget also announced the state unemployment rate for October was 6.1 percent.

A release from DTMB said the upward revision was the result of a distortion in statistical estimates found by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With the adjustment to September, DTMB said further adjustments to the state’s unemployment figures for January through August will also need to be made during the traditional review process done at the end of the calendar year. All months for 2021 should be revised in March 2022.

For some time, Michigan’s unemployment rate has appeared low considering that total employment remains well below where it was prior to the pandemic.

Total employment in the state increased slightly in October, by 6,000. Unemployment fell by about 7,000, making the workforce largely unchanged for the month.

“Despite the upward revision in September’s unemployment rate, the new data shows that Michigan’s jobless rate has fallen substantially over the past year from 8.1 percent to 6.1 percent,” Scott Powell, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. “The unemployment rate revisions by the BLS are a necessary part of the statistical estimation process to ensure accuracy.”

Michigan’s unemployment rate for October was above the national rate of 4.6 percent.

Wednesday’s report stated payroll jobs rose by 38,000 during October, an increase of 0.9 percent and the largest recorded growth since February.

The state’s workforce level had reportedly shrunk by 96,000, or 2 percent, since October 2020.

Michigan unemployment levels were still about 276,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels from February 2020. The October 2021 unemployment rate of 6.1 percent was above the 3.7 percent levels recorded in February 2020.

The largest jobs gains in October were in the leisure and hospitality sector, seeing growth of 1.8 percent. Manufacturing was close behind with growth of 1.7 percent from the previous month, followed by information (1.6 percent) and professional and business services (1.5 percent).

For the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metropolitan statistical area, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell to 5.8 percent in October, a drop of 0.2 percentage point. This followed a large upward revision of the September numbers for the region from 3.9 percent to 6 percent. Total employment in the region increased by about 5,000, while unemployment fell by 4,000.


GOP U.S. Reps Call Infrastructure Law ‘Build Back Broke Plan’

U.S. Rep Tim Walberg and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga coined the infrastructure bill the “Build Back Broke Plan” and the “Buy Back Voters Act,” respectively, during a press conference on Wednesday, vocalizing their frustration over the bipartisan law ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to a General Motors plant in Detroit.

The Republican National Committee hosted a virtual call where four Michigan GOP congressional delegation members highlighted their concerns over nationwide inflation, rising gas prices and the fight to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

Speaking on inflation, Huizenga (R-Zeeland) said current costs did not reflect transitory inflation, which is the expectation inflation will not remain high permanently. He also called the country energy dependent, saying the country is asking the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries for more help.

“At the end of the day, this is not transitory inflation,” Huizenga said. “Many of us have been saying that for a very long time. According to AAA, the national average increase in gas prices is $1.33. In Michigan, it’s just shy of $2 per gallon, just from 18 months ago, and our energy independence has gone out the window.”

Walberg (R-Tipton) said the infrastructure bill would add further burdens to Michigan. He referenced a letter he and other Republican U.S. House members signed that called for Biden to stop attempts to close Line 5, saying the oil pipeline has had no spills or damage over its 70-year lifetime.

“Stop even giving an indication that there’s ever an idea that would come to fruition of closing down Line 5 in Michigan, a line that has been there supplying fuel, propane and all sorts… for Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Canada,” Walberg said.

Walberg said the disruption of the pipeline is causing concern for his constituents, particularly farmers, over rising natural gas and propane prices.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township) asked what the Biden Administration’s solution would be to replace Line 5, saying she wants less talk and more action. She said Line 5 should stay open until an alternative was found.

McClain also questioned whether electric vehicle chargers could be built without widespread broadband.

McClain said while it’s great Biden is visiting Detroit, he should perhaps visit her district which is home to more rural areas, especially as he is pushing expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.

“We don’t even have broadband in some of the rural areas,” McClain said. “How are we going to get the charging stations, let’s be realistic… I think you need to spend some time in these rural areas… they do have different needs and problems.”

The four expressed disappointment over the president’s and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s actions over the past year, asking why the president is inflicting extra burdens on Michiganders.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) said the two leaders are essentially penalizing Michigan residents with the infrastructure law, saying his constituents were struggling prior to the law and working at least two jobs and can’t afford the proposed taxes.

“This bill penalizes hard working and low-income families and individuals,” Bergman said. “When you think about adding value, you look to where is the value. There’s a lot of talk, electric vehicles, all different things, but the bottom line is, when you add costs to a fixed income… coal heating bills, natural gas tax, all of those things that add to the operating expenses to that individual or family, they can’t afford what this bill brings to the table.”

Among the three Republican U.S. House members from Michigan not on the call was U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who voted for the infrastructure bill.


Theis Urges School Boards To Adopt Strict COVID Vaccine Policies

Sen. Lana Theis on Monday issued a call for local school boards to approve resolutions regarding coronavirus vaccines at schools, her latest move to push back against mandates for the vaccine.

In a statement, Theis (R-Brighton) repeated statements she has made in recent months against vaccine mandates in schools, saying she believes it would be unfair to treat the unvaccinated differently than those who have had their shots.

“No student should ever be denied an education because of some arbitrary government vaccine policy,” Theis said, adding that children should be guaranteed an in-person education regardless of their vaccination status and that school boards should affirm this on a local level. “I also urge school boards to adopt a policy that requires a parent to either be physically present or give express written consent before any vaccines are administered on school property.”

The push for local action comes after recent party-line votes in the Senate by the Republican majority regarding COVID-19 policy that are expected to be vetoed by the governor or are nonbinding.

Last month, the Senate passed four bills along party lines that would ban schools from requiring mask use or vaccines lacking full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Theis sponsored two of the bills in the package, which have not yet seen movement in the House and would almost certainly be vetoed if they reach the governor’s desk.

Earlier this month, she sponsored a nonbinding resolution that was adopted in the Senate along party lines condemning the U.S. Department of Justice for a memo instructing staff to coordinate a response to threats made against public school officials. Theis characterized her stance as that the FBI was being weaponized against parents who are worried about their children’s education as it relates to mask mandates and alleged teaching of critical race theory.


Broadband Tax Exemption Bills Reintroduced

Sen. Aric Nesbitt is pushing another attempt at legislation that would exempt broadband internet equipment in underserved areas of the state from property taxes, saying it should be part of the larger conversation about broadband as the state considers using federal funding.

Before the Legislature left for its recess on November 10, Nesbitt (R-Lawton) introduced SB 729 and SB 730 that would exempt eligible broadband equipment of a qualified business from property taxes beginning December 31 and provide exemptions for companies delivering broadband access underserved areas with speeds of at 100 megabits per second downstream and 10 megabits per second upstream.

“My hope is to continue the conversation,” Nesbitt said Wednesday.

Similar legislation, HB 4210 and SB 46, the latter also sponsored by Nesbitt, were vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in April and May, respectively.

Nesbitt said the conversation should be continued given that the state is now set to receive federal funding to expand broadband services in the state. Of the roughly $10 billion the state is slated to receive as part of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package, $100 million is set aside for high-speed internet access to underserved areas.

“If we do do something with broadband, I’d like to see this in the mix,” Nesbitt said.

He explained that with the federal monies coming, he believed, as he did while pushing the previous versions of the bills, that something should be done to spur private sector investment to connect underserved areas.

The bills were referred to the Senate Energy and Technology Committee. Nesbitt said he had good conversations in recent months with chairs of the committees that have heard the bills in both chambers as well as with the lieutenant governor and is hopeful the conversation can continue.

In her veto of SB 46, Whitmer said the bill provided no mechanism for assessors or the Department of Treasury to determine whether the equipment claimed is eligible under the requirement that it resolve a lack of broadband service. She also said the bill failed to include National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration grantees that primarily focus on services to tribal communities and minority-serving institutions.