What Happens When Dems Govern? Housing, Childcare, Health

by Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
January 24, 2024

In a speech sprinkled with references to ‘80s classics and nods to the Detroit Lions, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took stock of her administration’s biggest accomplishments in 2023, while laying down plans for 2024. 

From protecting abortion rights to providing free school meals, expanding protections for LGBTQ+ Michiganders and taking action to end natural hair discrimination, her 2024 State of the State address highlighted a myriad of accomplishments from Democratic lawmakers. 

“All great albums from the ‘80s have some things in common. Chart-topping hits that everyone loves, deep cuts for the fans and a few experimental tracks. At their best, these are timeless records whose impacts transcend a single year or artist,” Whitmer said. 

 “At our best, that’s what we aspire to do, too. Get things done that outlast us. Make policy for future generations. Over the past year, our record, like any great album, had something in it for everyone, and all the tracks — or policy — were bound by a common theme: making a real difference in people’s lives,” Whitmer said. 

She highlighted the rollback of the state’s retirement tax, the expansion of the state’s earned income tax credit from 6 to 30% of the federal level, alongside bringing the state’s rainy day fund to an all-time high of $2 billion.

Additionally Whitmer counted the passage of clean energy policies — including a 100% clean energy standard — among 2023’s greatest hits saying the effort makes Michigan a “national leader on climate action,” and will attract thousands of jobs backed by strong labor standards. 

Whitmer also hit back at GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), noting the state’s successful efforts to codify parts of the ACA in state law.

“While some folks in Washington are trying to repeal the ACA and strip health care away for kids, seniors, and working families, we got your back like a rock in Michigan. We will protect your care — no matter what,” Whitmer said. 

After playing through the last year’s hits, Whitmer laid out her vision for 2024, focused on housing, economic development and continuing efforts to improve access to education. 

“Right now, too many families spend more than half their income on their rent or mortgage. Our housing stock is old: nearly half of all units in Michigan were built before 1970. Young people cite housing affordability as one of their top concerns. .… In other words, the rent is too damn high and we don’t have enough damn housing,” Whitmer said.

The target is clear, Whitmer said: building 75,000 new or refurbished units in 5 years.

“In 2024, let’s build more of every kind of housing — single-family homes, apartments, and mixed-use buildings. In 2024, we will make the largest investment to build housing in Michigan history, let’s get it done. We will invest almost $1.4 billion to build or rehabilitate nearly 10,000 homes. That’s 10 times what we put into housing just 10 years ago,” Whitmer said. 

“Housing is a serious challenge, so we are making this serious investment. It’s about so much more than just a roof over your head. Housing builds generational wealth and forms the foundation for success in school, in work, in life. Let’s work together to build more housing so every Michigander has an affordable place to call home,” Whitmer said. 


Whitmer’s next proposal focused on providing tax relief to caregivers, which she said would save Michigan families up to $5,000 on their taxes. 

“By allowing people to write off caregiving expenses including counseling or transportation, and nursing or respite services, we can save them money. We can help more seniors age-in-place at home instead of a costlier long-term option. We can support parents of children with long-term care needs by saving them money,” Whitmer said.

While Whitmer previously took steps to lower the cost of college with the Michigan Achievement scholarship and offered free community college to eligible residents ages 21 and older, she proposed going a step further to expand education. 

“Last year, I proposed pre-K for All by the end of 2026, saving families about $10,000 a year and giving every child a solid academic foundation. Together, we are changing our definition of education to include pre-K, and last year, we expanded free pre-K to 5,600 more students. … In our next budget, let’s deliver pre-K for every single 4-year-old in Michigan, two years ahead of schedule,” Whitmer said. 

Alongside universal pre-K, Whitmer also proposed making the first two years of community college tuition-free for high school graduates.

“As Michiganders pursue an associate degree or skills certificate at a community college, they can save an average of $4,000 on tuition. This is a transformational opportunity for graduating seniors and will help us achieve our Sixty by 30 goal: having 60% of adults with post-secondary degree or skills training by 2030,” Whitmer said. 

While Whitmer previously pushed to bring manufacturing jobs in Michigan through her Make it in Michigan plan, she proposed additional strategies to support the state’s economic development. 

In addition to calling for a tax credit for research and development — an effort which has already been proposed in the Legislature — Whitmer proposed a fund to help lower payroll taxes: the HIRE Michigan Fund. 

“The value here is simple: the more you hire in Michigan, the more you should save in Michigan. We had a similar, bipartisan program years ago that worked well. So, let’s bring it back — because, well,everyone loves a throwback,” Whitmer said.  

She offered up a program to uplift regions of the state. While the state already has a number of  “renaissance zones” — strategically selected with lower taxes for businesses and entrepreneurs — there are strict categories for the projects eligible in these areas. Whitmer instead proposed a single flexible category she said would incentivize economic growth. 

Whitmer also called for an innovation fund to support high-growth startups.

“Right now, we have no state-level mechanism to attract and retain promising young companies. With the new innovation fund, we can launch hundreds of new Michigan-based startups and create thousands of jobs,” Whitmer said. 

Naturally, Whitmer’s final proposal hearkened back to a central campaign promise: to fix the damn roads. 

“Four years ago, I stood at this rostrum and rolled out the Rebuilding Michigan Plan, a $3.5 billion investment to fix our roads while supporting over 45,000 jobs without raising taxes by a dime. .… Tonight, I’m calling on the Michigan Department of Transportation to authorize the final $700 million of the Rebuilding Michigan Plan,” Whitmer said.

The final round of projects includes Interstate 94 along Detroit Metro Airport, Interstate 696 from Southfield through Warren and a bridge in Erie Township.

“The Rebuilding Michigan Plan is making commutes safer, saving drivers time and money, and allowing businesses to ship products more easily across Michigan. Let’s keep fixing the damn roads,” Whitmer said. 

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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