GRAND RAPIDS — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a roundtable event Thursday with roughly a dozen seniors in Grand Rapids, highlighting her administration’s efforts to combat the rising cost of living through various tax cuts.
Whitmer used the event at the United Methodist Community House’s Fresh Market, located at 900 S. Division Ave., to underscore policy proposals unveiled during her State of the State speech on Wednesday night. These include her Lowering MI Costs plan to repeal the so-called “retirement tax” and boosting the Working Families Tax Credit.
“Inflation is hurting a lot of people right now, and I’m trying to get more money in people’s pockets,” Whitmer told the group of seniors. “I can’t control global inflation, but what I can do is sign bills that will put more money back in your pockets.”
According to Whitmer’s office, repealing the retirement tax and restoring exemptions on pension income could save 500,000 households an average of $1,000 a year. Increasing the Working Families Tax Credit, or earned income tax credit, would deliver a combined $3,000 refund to 700,000 working families, directly benefiting 45 percent of children in Michigan, Whitmer has said. The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday approved bills aligning with Whitmer’s priorities.
The retirement tax “threw a lot of folks into financial crisis” when it was passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Rick Snyder more than a decade ago, Whitmer added.
Senior residents during Thursday’s roundtable also voiced concerns about rising rent prices that are difficult to pay on fixed income and Social Security.
“There is no question there is not enough housing stock in the state,” Whitmer said. “We put a lot of resources into building up housing stock. There are some communities that have old (housing) stock that can be brought up to code and made affordable, and there are some communities that are building from scratch. We’re not going to tell them what it should look like because (every community) is different, but we want to make sure they have state resources to make the margins work so they can build.”
She added that her forthcoming budget proposal will include more funding for affordable housing.
Whitmer on Thursday also covered multiple recent economic and workforce development proposals, such as revising the Michigan Reconnect program, building more housing stock and enshrining reproductive rights in state law.
Whitmer’s Make it in Michigan initiative includes expanding the Reconnect program that was launched in 2021 that allows qualifying college students to earn a tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate. The program pays the cost of in-district tuition for adults at least 25 years old who have not yet earned a degree. Whitmer and community college advocates are seeking to lower the minimum qualifying age to 21.
The Reconnect program also has helped to boost community college enrollment by allowing more adults to go back to school for job training. The state has accepted more than 110,000 Reconnect applications as of December 2022, and 22,000 students had enrolled through the program, as MiBiz previously reported.
“That initiative is (creating) more competition to make Michigan a leading state for opportunities for good paying jobs in our future generations,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer also noted that, in addition to expanding free college tuition and Michigan’s affordable housing stock, “protecting fundamental freedom” is a way to make the state more competitive.
“People spoke last November and so we respect that right,” Whitmer said, referring to the passage of the Proposal 3 ballot initiative to codify the right to abortion and other reproductive rights into the state constitution.
“Especially if we’re going to get more young people to come and make their lives in Michigan, that is something that sets us apart,” Whitmer said.