Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > July 21, 2023 | This Week in Government: No Vetoes as Whitmer Signs Education Budgets

July 21, 2023 | This Week in Government: No Vetoes as Whitmer Signs Education Budgets

July 21, 2023
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides 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.

No Vetoes as Whitmer Signs Education Budgets

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s signing of the education omnibus budget Thursday means the highest state per-student investment in Michigan history, all public school students get free breakfast and lunch and the first step toward free pre-k for all.

Whitmer, signing the budget in Suttons Bay, did not issue any line-item vetoes, spokespersons for her administration said.

Whitmer signed SB 173, which covers K-12 School Aid, higher education, and community colleges. The public act number was not available prior to publication. The signed bill will first have to be brought to the Office of the Great Seal in Lansing for filing before that can happen.

“Every Michigan child deserves a chance to pursue their potential and build a bright future. This historic education budget will make that possible,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This budget puts students first and supports parents by expanding access to free pre-K, providing free breakfast and lunch to all public school students, and improving higher education. Additionally, the budget makes Michigan one of the lowest-cost states to become a teacher, with tuition-free training, student loan repayment, and stipends for those who are completing their student teaching. I am so grateful to the new leadership in the Legislature for getting this done.”

In explaining the decision to sign the budget in Suttons Bay, Whitmer said Suttons Bay students are just as important as students anywhere else in the state.

Democratic lawmakers celebrated the budget’s accomplishments.

“Our students, parents, and teachers are the ultimate experts on what our education system needs, and that’s why throughout the budget process, my colleagues and I put them at the forefront of our discussions and our decision-making,” bill sponsor Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) said in a statement. “We have heeded their calls for support, equity, and innovation, and I’m incredibly proud of the historic investments, transformative programs, and concrete solutions that are included in the education budget that was signed today.”

Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park), who chairs the House Appropriations School Aid and Education Subcommittee, also praised the bill’s contents.

“This year, we passed yet another historic investment in Michigan schools and students, one that is truly transformative,” Weiss said in a statement. “In prior years, we closed the funding gap and increased the foundation allowance to its highest level. This year, we further increased per-pupil funding, fully funded the special education foundation allowance, and provided more support for at-risk students. I am so proud of the work we’ve done and will continue to do on behalf of Michigan kids.”

The $23.4 billion budget includes:

  • $611 million to increase per-pupil funding by 5%, or $458 per student;
  • $450 million deposit into a new rainy day fund for schools;
  • $370 million for teachers, including money for the MI Future Educator Fellowship;
  • $328 million for mental health and school safety;
  • $254.6 million to expand free pre-K for up to 5,600 kids;
  • $204.5 million increase, for a total of $952 million, in funding for academically at-risk, economically disadvantaged students ;
  • $160 million to provide public school students with free breakfast and lunch;
  • $150 million for individualized tutoring or academic support;
  • $140.3 million to continue expanded support for special education students;
  • $125 million to fund matching grants for school districts to change their bus fleet by switching over to electric vehicles;
  • $94.4 million for literacy-related programs and activities in Detroit’s public schools;
  • $25.5 million to support the expansion of existing payments for literacy grants and literacy coaches;
  • $25 million supporting new math intervention programs;
  • $25 million for additional support for vocational education and career and technical education equipment upgrades; and
  • $13.3 million to provide a 50% increase in funding for English language learners.

During the news conference, neither Whitmer nor any of the other officials who spoke addressed the unprecedented blitz of projects and other earmarked spending in the budget.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) criticized the budget, which passed the House in a nearly partisan vote, pointed to that spending, saying the budget didn’t invest as much in students as it could have.

“Michigan children who’ve struggled to learn to read won’t get much comfort from the fact that Democrats put pet projects – powered by a tax hike – over students’ academics,” Hall said in a statement. “While Republicans called for our state to invest resources to boost classroom learning, Democrats squeezed $2 billion for pork and new programs into the school budget – wasting money that could have provided nearly $1,400 more for each Michigan student. They also eliminated dedicated funding for the school resource officers who keep our schools safe.”

The Department of Education also praised the budget, drawing attention to the back-to-back years of increased funding.

“With this record School Aid budget, we are taking a significant step towards fulfilling our commitment to providing every child in Michigan with an equitable and excellent education,” State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh said in a statement. “From Detroit to Watersmeet, these investments will push Michigan towards a comprehensive and inclusive educational ecosystem that empowers all our students to thrive.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice said there was much to celebrate in the budget but also said Michigan shouldn’t stop investing in education.

“We’re not done yet,” Rice said in a statement. “The state can’t make up for multi-billion dollar underfunding in education, identified by the School Finance Research Collaborative study and other research, in just two state budgets, however extraordinary. Compared to other states and relative to inflation, the state underinvested profoundly in public education for many years post-Proposal A, and it will take time for us to address the adverse impact on human and financial resources and to build an education budget and system that fully support our children.”

Raise A Glass, Michigan Expands Alcohol Sales

Alcohol just became a bit more accessible in Michigan, and lawmakers hope that the new rules will help curb binge drinking and generate revenue for small businesses.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bipartisan legislation Tuesday that will allow alcohol to be sold at college sporting events and make liquor-to-go permanent. The bills were filed Wednesday with the Office of the Great Seal.

“The bipartisan bills I am signing today are about fairness, safety and revenue,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Michigan State University and the University of Michigan are two of three Big Ten schools prohibited by law from selling alcohol. Authorizing the legal sale of alcohol at sporting events will bring us on equal footing with other universities, help reduce the likelihood of binge drinking before games and bring in a heck of a lot more revenue that we can use to improve the student experience. I am proud that we are getting this done and making fall evenings at the Spartan Stadium or the Big House safer and more fun.”

SB 247 (PA 96, immediate effect) allows liquor licenses to be issued to sporting venues at public universities. Michigan State and the University of Michigan were two of the only three schools in the Big Ten to prohibit the sale of alcohol. Nebraska is the only remaining Big Ten school to prohibit alcohol sales at sporting events.

Reports from universities that have allowed alcohol sales at sporting events show the number of alcohol-related incidents declined after the prohibition was lifted. After Ohio State started selling alcohol stadium-wide in 2016, university police reported a 65% drop in alcohol-related incidents inside its sports venues.

Lawmakers hope that the law change will reduce binge drinking as people will no longer drink in excess prior to the game because they know they’ll have access to alcohol at the stadium.

Bill sponsor Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) applauded the signing of the legislation in a statement, saying that it was an issue of fairness.

“It is a basic issue of equality to patrons: why should VIPs get to enjoy the beverage of their choice and other attendees not?” he said. “This levels the playing field and will allow all patrons 21 and over at intercollegiate sporting events the ability to enjoy the event with the beverage of their choice.”

At Spartan Stadium, a 2005 expansion added suites and club seating on the west side of the facility. But because it was technically a separate structure, it could sell alcohol to fans.

Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns), who sponsored the House version of the bill, also celebrated the legislation being signed. Filler has introduced a bill for the law change for two consecutive years.

“Imagine sitting in the stands at Spartan Stadium on game day with a cold beer in your hands surrounded by all the contagious energy of the crowd – that’s the kind of experience that unites fans from all walks of life,” Filler said in a statement. “But the ability for college sports stadiums to sell alcohol is not just about creating a more enjoyable experience for fans, it’s also about fostering a responsible and safe environment. By promoting responsible consumption, implementing age verification measures, and offering diverse beverage options, we can create an unforgettable experience where fans revel in the game while enjoying their favorite drinks in moderation.”

Whitmer also signed SB 141 (PA 95, immediate effect) to allow restaurants and other businesses to continue serving cocktails to-go. The bill makes the policy, which was created during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) said in a statement. “We’ve heard from so many restaurant owners that this additional revenue stream became a lifeline that kept them in business. Three years in, it’s proven to be a popular new way for customers to support their favorite restaurants and has resulted in zero reported violations or safety issues. Cheers to my colleagues and the governor for recognizing a good thing when we see it, and with the passage of Senate Bill 141, making this successful trial permanent.”

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association also celebrated the signing of SB 141.

“The MRLA proudly championed cocktails-to-go in Michigan when our industry looked for creative ways to generate revenue sales during the pandemic,” MRLA President and Chief Executive Officer Justin Winslow said in a statement. “Now, we applaud our state legislature and Senator McMorrow for her leadership in making off-premise cocktail sales a permanent fixture in Michigan, giving restaurant operators a much-needed economic boost and the opportunity to continue providing a service that customers have greatly enjoyed.”

GOP: Elector Charges a Witch Hunt; Former U.S. Atty: That’s Hard to Prove

The Michigan Republican Party on Wednesday said that Attorney General Dana Nessel was misusing the power of her office when she announced felony charges against 16 GOP operatives for their alleged role in the push to overturn the 2020 election results by acting as fake electors.

Nessel announced the charges late Tuesday, which included various alleged election law violations for former party co-chair Meshawn Maddock and national committeewoman Kathy Berden. The false electors’ scheme was alleged to have been launched as a way to help overturn the 2020 victory of now-President Joe Biden in Michigan and to award the state’s electoral votes to then-President Donald Trump (See Gongwer Michigan Report, July 18, 2023).

Arraignments for those charged are set for the morning of August 10 in Lansing’s 54-A District Court.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the state party’s leadership also claimed that Nessel displayed “authoritarian tendencies and ambitions,” saying she weaponized her office when bringing charges against the false electors.

Those who have shown support for Maddock, Berden, and the others, some of whom are also party leaders or leaders in local Republican politics, have claimed that the false elector probes across the nation, or those into the efforts to overturn the election from Trump and his allies, were nothing more than political prosecutions by Democratic or anti-Trump officials or law enforcement.

In the Wednesday news release, which is not signed by Chair Kristina Karamo but does contain her name on the letterhead, the party followed suit and called the pending prosecution of the alleged false elector “illicit” and that Nessel’s actions were “forcing” those in her office “to make a difficult choice between fulfilling their oaths office or being complicit in wrongful actions.”

The release goes on to parse the charges, conflating election challenges lodged by members of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate with what Maddock and others are accused of and argued that parties offering alternative slates of electors had legal and historical precedent.

It also posited the question of why the 16 now charged with state election law violations were questioned by a federal grand jury, but none had yet to be charged with federal crimes.

The release purports to offer links to back its assertions, but no such links were provided in the body copy of the release, which was also disseminated on the party’s social media accounts.

As to why it believed Nessel was targeting the 16 individuals, the state party said she was working to “deconstruct the influence of the Michigan Republican Party’s activists and leaders by striking fear in us of being illicitly prosecuted.”

The party also said that “aspiring-tyrant AG Nessel and her co-conspirators posing as ‘liberals’ have their sights set on preserving, protecting, and defending systemic election corruption.”

“This system enables them to flood our governing bodies with individuals who are either actively working toward the destruction of Michigan and America or are being used as mere pawns in their schemes,” the party said Wednesday, ending with a call for concerned citizens to join the party. “The MIGOP team will closely monitor the situation and recruit and deploy activists as needed to ensure we are doing right by God and delivering freedom to future generations.”

The Michigan Conservative Coalition also weighed in, calling the charges a tactic to hurt Nessel’s political opponents – although none of those charged in the alleged scheme ran against Nessel in either of her bids for attorney general.

“They are being charged with conspiracy and fraud because they dared to question the fake 2020 election results. They are being charged with forgery even though they signed their own names and were very clear that they were sending an alternate slate of electors to be considered,” the coalition said. “They did nothing wrong! But since they are Republicans, they are being prosecuted! The Michigan government is run by bully thugs like Dana Nessel who will stop at nothing to hurt her political opponents. Nessel is completely lawless.”

It also promoted a donation drive to help pay for the legal defense of Maddock and MIGOP Grassroots Chair Marian Sheridan, who the group said were founders of its organization.

“I know that there are many worthy causes and that Biden has ruined the economy, but if we let them prosecute and persecute our Republican electors, then they are coming for us next,” the news release states. “If Nessel will put electors in prison, why not precinct delegates, donors, voters? If you and I let Democrats put more political prisoners in jail they will never stop.

Please dig deep and give what you can.”

That said, some acknowledged the seriousness and potential strength of the charges before a jury should the case go to trial, like former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who is now an attorney and partner with Honigman. Schneider was appointed by Trump in 2018 and, before that, served as Michigan’s chief deputy attorney general under Bill Schuette.

“I think everybody who is commenting on this, before they opine should actually read the charges. It explains it, and it reminds me a little bit of an analogy that … a lot of the Detroit bankruptcy case wasn’t about bankruptcy law, it was about constitutional law and those arguments,” Schneider told Gongwer News Service. “This case isn’t necessarily all about election law. It’s about the standard felonies about forgery and uttering and publishing. So, if you take that approach, it would make it a little bit easier for the jurors to understand if they don’t have to be kind of going through all the machinations of the election law. People often know what forgery is and that can be explained.”

Some who spoke with Gongwer on Tuesday said they’ve never seen anything quite like the scandal and effort to overturn the election results in Michigan and elsewhere, and Schneider shared a bit of that bewilderment with a caveat.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, but again, I’ve also charged crimes that were rarely brought before,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean just because this type of action hasn’t been brought, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be sustained.”

The idea that this was somehow a prosecution of political enemies was a political argument, Schneider said, and while that may have weight in some circles, it wasn’t the best legal argument.

“If you’re going to make that legal argument, that it’s political, you’d also have to say that the magistrate who approved these charges was biased, and the assistant and the special agent involved and the assistant attorney general,” he said. “So those are usually not successful legal arguments. It’s more of an argument to the public or for a jury nullification, but these arguments about politics, they just don’t often succeed in court.”

Schneider went on to say that the sister argument to that could be a showing that the magistrate judge who approved the charges was not biased but not “neutral or detached,” but he said there was no evidence of that.

He also took a stab at what might be the legal defense arguments of the defendants should they plead not guilty and seek to have their cases play out at trial. Schneider said one possible route was to show that this was simply an alternative slate and that they weren’t posing as electors – which would justify the forgery and uttering and publishing claims – but were rather setting up a backup plan if the election was overturned in the courts, by some new or tangible evidence of fraud or successful objections from the U.S. Senate on electoral count day.

“There were a lot of things happening at the time. If we think back about what it was like in December of 2020, there were all these lawsuits, all these court battles, and there were people who were saying, ‘well, let’s, let’s put this forth in case the court battles turn out in our favor,’” he said.

However, Schneider noted that a problem with that argument is that the document the false electors signed contains some potential falsehoods that prosecutors may pick apart.

“A big problem with this is the document that was signed, says, ‘We convened and organized in the state Capitol and 2 p.m. on December 14. ‘That is not true,” he said. “And there is evidence, in fact video evidence, that none of those people went inside the building for that purpose. So, that alone is a real problem for the defendants. And there were also procedures about who is the duly elected elector, and that’s, that’s also a big hurdle for them.”

Capital Outlay, ‘ITEMS,’ and Beyond for Funding Higher Education

Universities and community colleges across the state are getting a boost in funding for infrastructure projects for the 2023-24 fiscal year, even if the question of whether capital outlay funding will be allocated is still unanswered.

A new line item – Infrastructure, Technology, Equipment, Maintenance, and Safety, or ITEMS – was added to allow universities and community colleges to repair, improve or maintain existing buildings, facilities, equipment, technological and physical infrastructure, student housing, and school safety measures. The state’s 15 public universities received $79 million in funding, and community colleges received $32.8 million.

Allocation of the funds will be based on fiscal year-equated student enrollment and is slated for distribution in January 2024.

“The distributions will be for more meaningful amounts to take on some larger, different, meaningful projects,” said Brandy Johnson, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “It’s probably not enough to build a new building on campus, what is coming out of these ITEMS lines, but they would be able to do some meaningful infrastructure work, which is incredibly important.”

Boilerplate language included in the budget suggests that although capital outlay funding has yet to be approved by the Legislature, it could be on its way.

The boilerplate says institutions that receive capital outlay project authorization by December 15 would not be eligible for the ITEMS funding. It’s a new concept in the capital outlay realm.

Joint capital outlay is supposed to run in the fall, Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) said, based on current conversations, but that’s not definitive yet.

“I really wanted to show the universities and community colleges that the state of Michigan was behind them, and by doing that, I wanted to make sure there were no quote unquote, losers, so that everyone got something this year,” she said. “Because for the past how many decades we have totally been disinvesting in higher education, so the deal was that if you don’t … get capital outlay, you get ITEMS funding, so it was a way for everyone to win.”

Jeremy Frazee, spokesperson for Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that there were no capital outlay project plans for the fall to be shared now but noted the budget allows for a capital outlay bill before the end of the year.

There is already a House bill that lays out the potential for capital outlay. HB 4282 lists 13 projects, including projects at Eastern Michigan University, Northern Michigan University, Oakland University, Saginaw Valley State University, University of Michigan-Flint, Wayne State University, Delta College, Grand Rapids Community College, Henry Ford College, C.S. Mott Community College, Northwestern Michigan College, Oakland Community College and Wayne County Community College District.

“I don’t have a crystal ball. I really wish I did on capital outlay,” said Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities. “We certainly remain hopeful and optimistic given the language that was included in the state’s higher ed budget regarding the ITEMS funding.”

Still, regardless of capital outlay, the ITEMS funding is important, Johnson said.

“We have been advocating for the Legislature to dedicate, much like they did with ITEMS, direct resources … to support a select number of our colleges develop new or expand existing student housing programs,” Johnson said.

Hurley agreed, saying that something like ITEMS has been a top priority for his organization’s advocacy.

“Every campus has tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance needs built up over the years, and they all deserve ITEMS dollars. … Recognizing that not every university can get that capital outlay in the same year, there should be a more consistent sustained process,” he said. “Our advocacy has been that there just needs to be a consistent, predictable process instead of feast or famine. … It’s a midnight lame-duck session, and then it’s a Christmas tree of capital outlay, which doesn’t help from a predictability or planning standpoint.”

Discussions still need to be held about how ITEMS funding is distributed, Steckloff said, because smaller institutions end up with much less money than they need under fiscal year enrollment because their numbers are lower.

Hurley said that overall, he was thrilled to see the investment in post-secondary education in the budget, especially with the funding for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship.

“I hope that it absolutely puts the state on the map in terms of ‘We’re open for business’ as it involves college affordability and the attraction, retention and the recruitment of employers, to build out our talent pipeline,” he said.

Steckloff called the higher education funding “transformational.”

“I can’t express enough that this is going to be a generational transformation,” she said. “The funding that students are now eligible to get is unheard of. Every state in the country is looking at Michigan right now.”

She also said she was proud that they were able to make the funding operational rather than one-time.

Right now, Steckloff said it was critical for college students to fill out their FASFA form because there will be money available now that wasn’t previously.

“It’s going to be a whole new world,” she said.

Still, Steckloff said she thinks the state can aim for better.

“The goal is to eventually create an office to bring back a state loan program at a much smaller interest rate, if we can’t figure out how to get free college,” she said. “This is something that’s definitely going to be discussed with the MILead program with the new department.”

Unemployment Down Again in June to 3.6%

Michigan saw a labor force gain of 23,000 during June with a seasonally adjusted jobless rate decrease of one-tenth of a percentage point, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget said Thursday.

The state’s unemployment rate for June was 3.6%, which matches the federal rate for the second consecutive month.

“Michigan’s labor market continued to remain steady in June with little change in employment and unemployment,” Wayne Rourke, labor market information director of the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, said in a statement. “Seasonally adjusted payroll jobs also remained stable over the month.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in a statement, said the state’s labor force has grown by 85,000 during the first half of 2023, which she said was the most ever for the first six months of the year since the state began tracking the data in the 1970s.

“Michigan’s economy continues to grow,” she said. “Our unemployment rate is the lowest in 23 years. Our labor force participation rate is up again, meaning more people are working and filling open positions at businesses across the state. Michiganders are rolling up their sleeves, working hard, and bringing home more money to provide for themselves and their families.”

June was the fourth consecutive month that the jobless rate decreased, and the month’s statewide labor force participation rate increased by two-tenths of a percentage point to 60.7%. Michigan’s employment-population ratio also increased by 0.3 percentage points to 58.6%.

The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn Metropolitan Statistical Area’s (MSA) seasonally adjusted employment level rose by 10,000 between May and June, while unemployment declined by 1,000, resulting in a minor labor force gain of 9,000 and a jobless rate reduction of one-tenth of a percentage point during June.

During the year, Michigan’s nonfarm employment total rose by 76,000, or 1.7%, DTMB said.

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