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Whitmer's budget prioritizes tax cuts, schools

Michigan Budget Director Chris Harkins, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist prepare to present the administration’s new budget proposal to House and Senate appropriations committees.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Michigan Budget Director Chris Harkins, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist prepare to present the administration’s new budget proposal to House and Senate appropriations committees. (Photo: Rick Pluta/MPRN)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared before the state Legislature’s spending committees Wednesday to deliver a $79 billion budget proposal.

She sat before the combined House and Senate appropriations committees flanked by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Budget Director Christopher Harkins. She said her proposal would spend record amounts on schools, universities, community colleges and job training. Also, it has money to attract and keep teachers.

“It is a big budget,” she said, “but it is also a great opportunity for the state.”

She said much of it is made possible by a windfall of federal recovery funds, a large budget surplus, and a Legislature now controlled by Democrats.

“In the last four years, we’ve really put our fiscal house in order, paying down $14 billion of debt, amassing a record ‘rainy day’ fund, and getting our credit rating upgraded in the process,” she said. “That is why are in a position to make investments that were long overdue.”

Harkins said the budget plan takes into account that some programs are one-time expenditures while others will be baked into future budgets.

“Those are re-investments in people and those are reduced revenues as we go forward and so those are also places where you see spending of some of those surplus dollars,” he said. “Those are ongoing dollars, though.”

An example of that is the earned income tax credit, re-branded by Whitmer in her State of the State speech last month as the Working Families Tax Credit.

On education, the spending plan includes a 5% increase in per-pupil funding for schools and a $160 million plan to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students, which Whitmer said would help families save $850 a year. The governor is also asking for $300 million for a universal pre-K proposal.

Whitmer also called for a flat one-time payment of $180 to each tax filer, whether it's a joint or an individual return. Many Republicans say that’s an anemic substitute compared to a permanent decrease in the state income tax rate.

State Senator Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He says now it’s time for the Legislature to delve into the details.

“We have to be responsible, and I would still like to see the committee process working here,” he said. “I know there are opportunities for improvement. But it’s moving pretty quickly and I haven’t seen the actual (budget) bill yet.”

Beyond a big budget surplus, Whitmer has another advantage that she didn’t enjoy in the four years of her first term. Democrats hold slim majorities in the House and the Senate, which puts them in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining budget priorities.

“I support the governor’s vision for Michigan,” said Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township). “The governor has laid out a set of priorities that every Michigander can get behind whether they’re a Democrat, Republican or independent.”

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.