© 2024 Interlochen
CLASSICAL IPR | 88.7 FM Interlochen | 94.7 FM Traverse City | 88.5 FM Mackinaw City IPR NEWS | 91.5 FM Traverse City | 90.1 FM Harbor Springs/Petoskey | 89.7 FM Manistee/Ludington
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Preschool, community college proposals headline '80s-pun-laden State of the State address

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, speaks to a joint session of the state Legislature during her sixth State of the State address on Wednesday, January 25, 2024.
Lester Graham
Michigan Public
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, speaks to a joint session of the state Legislature during her sixth State of the State address on Wednesday, January 25, 2024. (Photo: Lester Graham/Michigan Radio)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled proposals for free preschool for 4-year-olds and two years of free tuition for community college students during her State of the State address Wednesday night.

Both budget priorities would build upon policy ideas Whitmer, a Democrat, had mentioned during last year’s speech. She had called for pre-K for all by the end of 2026.

Meanwhile, last year, lawmakers temporarily expanded a free community college tuition program to apply to anyone over the age of 21 without a postsecondary degree.

Whitmer said expanding education access would be transformational for the state.

“We’re broadening our vision of education beyond K through 12. Every single Michigander can count on a free public education from pre-K through community college. That’s the Michigan guarantee. Let’s get it done,” Whitmer said.

Several of the policy items Whitmer discussed in her speech tied back to a goal of growing the state’s population.

Providing free community college tuition was among the priorities laid out in a population growth council report that came out last month.

Whitmer also mentioned plans to build more housing, provide tax rebates for those buying new vehicles, and create new tax credits. That includes a new caregiver tax credit the governor called on state lawmakers to pass.

Whitmer said the plan could offer up to $5,000 in tax breaks to residents who are caring for an aging or sick family member.

“We can help more seniors age in place at home in dignity instead of a costlier long-term option. We can support parents of children with long-term care needs,” Whitmer said.

The cost of Whitmer's proposals will come into focus at state budget meetings in the next few weeks.

Republican lawmakers were already questioning the governor’s ability to pay for her proposals.

"It's unfortunate that Governor Whitmer is maxing out the credit card,” said Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt. “Her solution to transportation is to max out the credit card, hand the bill to the next governor and hand the bill to the next Legislature.”

Aside from making new proposals, the governor used her speech to highlight policy wins from the past year using several references to 1980s music and culture.

Those included legislation to make it easier for the state to site renewable energy projects, and to codify the federal Affordable Care Act into state law.

“Because no one should be running up that bill to get better when they’re sick,” Whitmer said in reference to the Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill.”

Despite receiving several standing ovations from the Democratic side of the aisle, several Republicans appeared unimpressed during the speech.

“This was clearly the most partisan speech that Governor Whitmer has given,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall.

Hall said Whitmer should heed the advice from the Growing Michigan Together Council’s report on expanding the state's population, calling it a “scathing indictment of her administration.”

“Our roads are among the worst in the country. Our young people are leaving the state ... and our cities are not places people want to live,” he added. “So where's the cohesive economic growth strategy?”

Nesbitt said the governor is more focused on positioning herself for higher office than addressing the state’s challenges.

“Republicans have a vision that puts your community, your school and your family first ahead of a bigger state government, special interests or ambitions for higher office.”

Other familiar topics mentioned in Whitmer's speech included fixing roads and bridges and passing a research and development tax credit.

Whitmer referenced new recycling and electric vehicle battery projects the state recently won with the help of its business incentives programs.

“We’re showing the world that we make a lot more than just cars. In the decades ahead, we will dominate the manufacturing of batteries, chips, and clean energy too,” Whitmer said.

The research and development tax credit has already passed the state House with bipartisan support and is before the Michigan Senate.

Nesbitt said Republicans see some opportunity for bipartisan solutions to improve the state’s roads and schools. But he said the Democrats need to make a commitment to reach across the aisle, especially in the state House, which had a Democratic majority for much of last year, but is now evenly split.

“It's 54 Republicans, 54 Democrats, perfect time to work in a bipartisan way to move our state forward. And instead, the governor continues to double down on her partisan, left-wing, progressive agenda.”

The House is divided due to two Democratic lawmakers vacating their seats after winning mayoral races. Special elections have been scheduled in April to fill those seats, with a primary occurring later this month.
Copyright 2024 Michigan Public. To see more, visit Michigan Public.

Arjun Thakkar
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.