Governor earns split decision on budget from business groups

By: - March 5, 2019 9:05 pm

Brian Calley (left) and Gretchen Whitmer (right)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s fiscal year 2020 budget has, not surprisingly, won praise from education organizations, road builders, anti-poverty advocates and local government groups.

When it came to business groups, however, the Democrat got a mixed review.

Doug Rothwell, President and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, praised her roads plan.

“Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) applauds Governor Whitmer for focusing on infrastructure and talent development in her first budget address – two of the most important ways we can make Michigan a Top Ten state.  We support the Governor’s leadership in proposing a bold solution to fix Michigan’s longstanding problem of deteriorating roads and bridges.”

Rothwell also applauded Whitmer for programs to increase the number of Michiganders with a post-high school credential, like an associate’s degree or workforce training certificate. He said it was “consistent” with the group’s agenda of increased support for higher education. He added that his organization believes that should “be tied to performance,” however.

But the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) was highly critical of Whitmer’s proposal to expand the state’s 6-percent corporate income tax to more S-corporations and limited liability companies (LLC). That didn’t exactly come as a surprise as SBAM’s president played an integral part of getting the current business tax system in place.

Rob Fowler

Brian Calley served as GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder’s lieutenant governor for eight years and the 2011 corporate income tax, which excluded S-corps and LLCs, was his first big policy priority.

“Today’s proposal singles out smaller companies that have been essential to our economic resurgence,” said Calley. “This new small business tax will hurt small businesses and undo our economic growth. We should be sending small businesses a thank you note, not a substantially higher tax bill.”

SBAM CEO Rob Fowler called Whitmer’s proposal “a job-killer for small businesses, who make up most of the employment and employment growth in our state.”

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley weighed in on Whitmer’s roads plan in a measured statement, reiterating its position that user fees phased in over time are the best way to fix infrastructure.

“Earlier today, the Governor outlined a comprehensive plan to fix the roads that relies on user fees to solve the problem,” he said. “We commend the Executive Office for taking this important next step. The Michigan Chamber agrees with the principle that those who use the roads should pay for the roads and we are prepared to support a meaningful increase in user fees phased in over time. We urge lawmakers to recognize that state government must take bold action to fix the roads and we look forward to working with them to solve this problem.”

Here’s a roundup of other groups’ reactions to Whitmer’s budget plan.

Michigan Municipal League Executive Director and CEO Dan Gilmartin praised Whitmer’s plans for infrastructure and revenue sharing for local governments: 

“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal is a comprehensive, bold first step toward addressing a number of problems that have long confronted the state. It provides new and sustainable investment in our broken transportation system, particularly in areas where most Michiganders live, work and play. It begins to reverse years of underfunding of revenue sharing, helping our communities maintain public safety and competing with other states in attracting residents.”

Dan Gilmartin

Michael Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA), complimented her roads plan:

“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on the pledge to fix Michigan’s aging and crumbling infrastructure, and her proposed 2020 state budget appears to signal that she intends to offer the bold leadership needed to solve a problem that governors and the Legislature have largely failed to resolve for two decades. Multiple studies have estimated that Michigan needs to be investing $2.6 billion more every year for the next two decades to fix our roads and bridges. Michigan voters are watching Lansing and waiting to see if the Legislature and Governor will join together to exercise the leadership necessary to produce a solution that will finally fix our roads and other infrastructure.”

Geno Alessandrini, business manager for the Michigan Laborers’ District Council, used Whitmer’s signature catchphrase:

“The Michigan Laborers Union strongly supports the Governor’s bold plan to finally fix the damn roads. We will continue to work with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure our State once again has world-class infrastructure built by the highly-skilled, hardworking men and women of Michigan.”

Lansing road work | Susan J. Demas

Douglas W. Stockwell, business manager for Operating Engineers 324 also liked what he heard on roads:

“After decades of neglect, it is going to take bold, decisive action to fix Michigan’s roads and that’s exactly what the Governor is doing with her proposal today. Kicking the can down the road is not an option any longer. Michigan’s Operating Engineers stand ready to do what we do best — build the roads — because we know better than anyone that a strong infrastructure is absolutely critical to jobs and our economy.”

AFSCME Council 25 President Lawrence A. Roehrig said Whitmer’s budget prioritizes working families:

“AFSCME members across the state are thankful to finally have a Governor who will stand up for working families. For decades, our state has neglected to invest in infrastructure, education, and our communities. We have all been paying the price, but this budget shows that the buck stops with Governor Whitmer. She is living up to her campaign promises by repealing the pension tax without gutting funding for our communities, Fixing the Damn Roads, funding our children’s education and training at all levels, and making sure corporations pay their fair share.”

Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Jacobs lauded a tax break for low-income people and urged an even bigger deduction:

“The governor’s budget addresses many of the League’s policy priorities for Michigan residents, including several watershed changes that we have been advocating for nearly a decade or more. This includes a much-needed increase in Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit — a bipartisan, pro-work policy and one of our greatest weapons against poverty — and while we would still like to see it fully restored to 20 percent or expanded further, doubling to 12 percent over two years is a fantastic start.”

Mark Guastella, Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel (MARSP) executive director, said repealing the pension tax is good policy:

“Our members are happy to hear that the governor is delivering on a campaign promise to restore the tax exemption for Michigan retirees who were born after 1946. When the pension tax went into effect in 2012, a huge number of our members began to face unexpected taxation on their retirement benefits.  Many of them had retired and established financial plans based on those benefits.”

Luann Dunsford, Michigan Works! Association CEO zeroed in on the skills trade training portion of the budget:  
“Michigan Works! applauds Gov. Whitmer for her commitment to focusing on workforce development and closing the skills gap in her budget proposal. We look forward to partnering with the governor to provide training for in-demand skills that will lead to productive careers. The new Michigan Reconnect program and MI Opportunity Scholarship will be great assets in our workforce development toolkit.”

Middle Cities Education Association Executive Director Ray Telman praised Whitmer’s education spending proposal:

“This child-centered budget will enable our members to provide resources for students while enabling local school boards and their professional educators to make decisions that they believe are in the best interest of the children under their care. Gov. Whitmer’s budget establishes a new high-water mark for our children, their schools and our state.” 

Amber Arellano

Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, also offered support for the governor’s education plan:

“Gov. Whitmer’s commitment to investing in underserved students – including students with special needs — is an important step forward for public education in Michigan. Governor Whitmer’s proposed move toward a student funding formula that takes into account students’ need will help address the state’s funding gaps for vulnerable students, and better equip Michigan’s high-poverty schools to meet the needs of their students.”

Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, School Finance Research Collaborative project director, agreed:

“We applaud Gov. Whitmer for calling for a new, fairer school funding approach that will help meet the needs of all Michigan students. We look forward to working with Gov. Whitmer on a new funding method that provides all students the same opportunity to get a high-quality education and compete for jobs.”

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.