In the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, Michigan defied expectations of a red wave, reelecting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and electing both a Democratic state Senate and House for the first time in nearly 40 years (although Democrats did hold the state House about 15 years ago). With this Democratic trifecta in power comes the opportunity to address education, make progress on workers’ rights and better leverage federal funds in Michigan.
One concern this trifecta can address with regards to education is literacy. The Read by Grade Three Law requires schools to give reading and writing assessments to children in kindergarten through third grade. If a student falls more than one grade level behind proficiency, they must repeat third grade, which is ultimately unhelpful to students as it merely serves to set them behind their peers. A more favorable method of alternative education for students who fail the test would be to ensure that they can continue onto the next grade level with their peers and learn the skills they fall behind on with remedial education.
In order to assure that the education system is addressing literacy throughout all parts of the state, state funds should be allocated to different school districts based on demonstrated need. While each district and student is different and there is no perfect spending plan, more can be done to address the fact that a large number of Michigan’s school districts spend at least 10% less than the national average on each student. The curriculum should also be standardized at the state level to minimize disparities in curricula from district to district and to ensure greater access to accelerated education programs for each district.
A more equitable learning experience can be furthered beyond the classroom in funding students’ access to technology and free lunches. Ann Arbor Public Schools, for example, were able to help level the playing field among students during COVID-19 by providing Chromebooks for remote learning to every student.
Not all school districts have the funds to provide adequate technology to each student, but as learning becomes increasingly dependent on technology, that must change. Also, during COVID-19, a federal program existed that allowed students to obtain free lunches. This program ended in July, but free and reduced school lunches are still needed urgently as rising inflation creates further food insecurity for low-income families. Free and reduced school lunches reduce food insecurity, obesity rates and poor health outcomes, making these programs paramount in maintaining healthy and equitable school environments.
These provisions, however, must extend beyond students and to teachers. Because teachers form the minds of the next generation, a minimum salary should be set statewide to retain teachers and to ensure a quality education for all Michigan students.
Now that Democrats have won the governorship and the state legislature, they can holistically approach the issue of workers’ rights and reinvigorate the economy as we move past the immediate COVID-19 crisis. A first priority should be to repeal the “right-to-work” laws implemented by former Gov. Rick Snyder, which weakened union membership in the state to the point where union membership is currently at its lowest point in decades. Although it may seem backward to pay to work, unions require dues and fees to increase their bargaining power — which allows them to increase wages and safety in the workplace across the board. Decreased union membership allows companies to exploit their workers more than if they were unionized and decreases pay and equity, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. For the sake of workers during these increasingly uncertain times and record-breaking inflation, repealing Snyder’s anti-labor laws should be a top priority for this new trifecta government.
Another priority should be continuing to reinvigorate the economy after COVID-19. Michigan actually saw a higher GDP growth than the average U.S. state: 6.2% compared to the national average of 5.7% in 2021. Under Whitmer, the state had the best post-pandemic economic recovery in the nation. This trend, albeit hopeful for Michigan’s broader recovery after the 2008 recession, should be continued with smart legislation and policy that encourages investment without sacrificing the rights of the laborer.
One might say that repealing Snyder’s right-to-work laws would discourage companies from coming to and investing in Michigan. While that might be true to some degree, Snyder’s right-to-work laws didn’t attract companies from coming back after the recession either. Regardless, many companies are either outsourcing their labor to other countries. Further, would Michigan laborers want to sacrifice their rights to bolster the profits of distant CEOs, such as in Texas? Companies that would so brazenly violate the rights of their workers shouldn’t be welcome, under any circumstance. There are other ways to usher in economic prosperity without sacrificing the rights of the worker.
One way to do this is to assist in the broader shift in the automotive industry from fossil fuels to electric or hybrid vehicles. Michigan’s automotive industry is the largest in the country and makes up about 18% of the state’s labor force. It’s integral to the economy of the state and should be encouraged to develop and prosper with more climate-conscious means.
Renewable energy is a rapidly expanding industry, and Michigan could put itself at the forefront of this burgeoning industry through electric vehicles (EVs) and more. One strategy could be tax breaks or subsidies for firms manufacturing renewables and EVs. Encouraging movement of firms to Michigan while retaining environmental integrity would be fantastic. Retraining programs for workers shifting from more traditional manufacturing jobs into cleaner industries would be important as well.
Leveraging Federal Funds
In order to achieve the policy goals outlined above, the trifecta must manage and direct the use of federal funds in a productive manner. With the growing economic importance of developing innovative technology, the federal funding provided by the CHIPS and Science Act would allow Michigan to progress as a technology-manufacturing titan, if used correctly. The CHIPS and Science Act has put forth around $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing in order to further bring back manufacturing jobs to the United States.
With Michigan’s history of being a manufacturing titan, mainly in the automotive industry, there is an opportunity for the state to start the transition from automotive manufacturing to technological manufacturing with the CHIPS and Science Act. If the Democratic trifecta can use the money allocated by the CHIPS Act to motivate technological innovation and manufacturing across the state, it will create millions of jobs and spur major economic growth.
Properly leveraging the funds provided by the CHIPS and Science Act would not only result in overt economic benefits but also further growth in many urban centers as well. Cities such as Detroit, Hamtramck and Dearborn — centers of the automotive industry — can also be hotspots for semiconductor and other technological development with the CHIPS and Science Act. This would not only help the individuals in the city but also revitalize the cities by reinventing the way money flows in and out of these areas. Furthermore, a focus on creating tech manufacturing jobs within the state would also provide local job opportunities for University of Michigan graduates.
Another area that the newly instated trifecta should focus on is counteracting climate change. With the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, there is now over $350 billion in federal funds to help fight climate change and support energy security, which means that a Michigan government focused on environmental policy could and should make great strides toward protecting the environment. The act itself explicitly provides a variety of Michigan-centered commitments to support cleaner air, electric vehicle production and lower energy costs.
The trifecta could use this newly allocated money in a plethora of ways. A newer form of climate-friendly infrastructure is the addition of solar panels on homes and other buildings. Subsidies, tax exemptions and other factors that would incentivize solar panel additions on homes could be enacted by the trifecta to spur individual motivation on environmentally progressive actions. A focus on solar panel construction and other progressive infrastructure would ensure that Michigan reaches its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
A third point of impact for the trifecta could be the opportunity to improve and develop various areas of infrastructure within the state with the newly enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Without a doubt, infrastructure, including roads, clean water, accessible electricity and Wi-Fi and public transportation are some of the most important and pressing issues to the average Michigan citizen, and it is critical that this new trifecta take action on these pertinent issues.
With the $1.2 trillion set aside from the federal infrastructure law, Michigan, which has already shown some bipartisan momentum for infrastructure reform, should leverage these funds to revitalize intercity and intracity transportation as well as address other pressing infrastructural issues. This revitalization will not only go miles to spur economic growth but also provide a unique opportunity for Michigan to position itself as a leader in environmentally-centered infrastructure.
Following the 2022 midterm elections, Michigan is uniquely equipped to tackle some pressing issues like education and workers’ rights. The new Democratic trifecta should also seek to leverage the plethora of federal funds from the past few years to put Michigan back on the national map. This opportunity, which comes after nearly 40 years of divided government or Republican control in Lansing, is one that Whitmer and the Democrats ought not to squander. It’s time to capitalize on this opportunity by passing progressive legislation and thoughtfully reconsidering existing policies.