LANSING — Lawmakers representing Lenawee County welcome Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desire to repeal the state pension tax and lower the cost of insulin.
Whitmer outlined his intention to do both in his State of the State address on Wednesday. Wealthy from the state’s surplus revenue, the Democrat called for a series of targeted tax cuts while outlining her legislative agenda and touting bipartisan achievements ahead of her re-election.
Giving her second consecutive State of the State address virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she called for the tax exemption of retirement income – allowing 500,000 households to save an average of $500 a year. year – and the full restoration of credit for 730,000 low- and middle-wage earners. families who would receive an average of $350 more per year.
She offered a $2,500 state credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle and charging equipment on the heels of General Motors’ announced $7 billion investment in Michigan to convert a factory to manufacture electric vans and build a new battery cell factory.
Other new initiatives include adding hundreds of mental health care providers and reducing the cost of insulin.
“I think where possible we should make taxes fairer for our senior citizens and our working families. Michiganians should be able to keep more of what they’ve earned,” Whitmer said. from auto supplier Detroit Diesel’s factory in Redford Township, flanked by all-electric vehicles, saying places like this are where Michigan’s future will be forged.
State Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, and State Representative Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, both signaled support for the pension tax repeal, which was implemented by Republican lawmakers as part of a broader tax reform package in 2012 during Gov. The administration of Rick Snyder.
The term “pension tax” is a bit of a misnomer. The legislation Snyder called for and signed did not create a new tax, but it did remove full and partial tax exemptions for public and private pension income, respectively. Those born before 1946 were exempted from the change, and there was a phased introduction for other older people. Whitmer’s plan would reinstate these credits and exemptions based on improvements in the state’s financial condition.
“It’s time the governor understood the need for tax relief — especially given the terrible damage his actions caused hundreds of Michigan family businesses during his unilateral shutdowns,” Zorn said in a statement. sent by email. for pension tax repeal for years, and I look forward to working with the Governor and my colleagues to secure much-needed retirement income tax relief for our seniors. »
“Repealing the pension tax has been a priority of mine for a long, long time,” Lightner said in an emailed statement. “It’s great to hear that the plan has the support of the governor.
“Michigan seniors have worked their entire lives toward retirement, planning ahead with the expectation that their pension will not be taxed as it never has been in the past. In 2011, the rug was pulled from under them and the rules for taxing pension income changed. People on fixed incomes were suddenly asked to pay additional taxes on the benefits they earned and deserved. It wasn’t fair then, and it’s not fair now.”
Lightner said Republicans introduced a plan to repeal the pension tax each of his two terms at home. One of the first bills introduced in the current term of the House would repeal it.
“With the Governor offering public support for a repeal during his State of the State address, I look forward to getting this plan across the finish line,” she said.
In a press release after her speech about her plan to lower the price of insulin to no more than $50 a month, Whitmer cited a bipartisan effort by State Representative Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, and the State Representative Sarah Cambensy, D-Marquette would do just that.
“As chair of the Health Policy Committee, ensuring Michigan residents have access to the care they need is among my top priorities,” Kahle said in an emailed statement. “I am encouraged to hear that the Governor is committed to improving access to insulin and mental health care – especially in the wake of his forced school closures which have led to increased charges for mental health for our young people. I hope she will work with us to make those promises a reality.”
One goal, Whitmer listed Wednesday, is to increase the number of mental health workers. She proposed expanding a program whereby the state pays up to $200,000 in student loans for those who work in nonprofit clinics in areas where there is a shortage of medical professionals. And she said she would propose another ‘bold investment’ in her budget to increase funding for mental health workers in schools, part of a plan that would mark the biggest increase in funding for education. in over 20 years.
The optimistic governor said that despite the coronavirus, she and the Republican-led Legislature have made progress in funding education, adding auto jobs, fixing roads and cutting employee bonuses. car insurance.
Zorn pointed to similar bipartisan achievements.
“We can work together to improve our condition,” he said. “Last year, we reached agreement on innovative tools to help attract and create good jobs in Michigan and pass a balanced state budget that included record funding for our schools that finally reached the goal of providing each school district with the same minimum per-student foundation allowance.
“I pledge to build on this foundation as we work to improve our state and the lives of everyone in Michigan.”
Kahle said she would have liked to know more about the governor’s plans for rural Michigan.
“We heard the governor mention Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Macomb and Detroit, but we need to hear real solutions for families in rural Michigan communities like Lenawee County who face their own challenges, such as the rural broadband access,” she said. .
“As we enter a new year, the governor has an opportunity to prove that she wants to work together in a bipartisan way to find solutions for the people of Michigan,” Kahle said. “We can’t progress without working together – I hope she takes this opportunity.”
It was believed to be the first time a governor has delivered annual remarks outside of Lansing since it became the state capital 175 years ago. Governors began giving the speech in person sometime in the 20th century, state archivist Mark Harvey said.
Whitmer had planned to address lawmakers again in a joint legislative session on Capitol Hill, as is tradition, until the omicron variant fueled a record number of reported infections and hospitalizations.
“While 2021 hasn’t been as miraculous as any of us would have liked, we have made progress,” she said of the pandemic during the 25-minute speech. “We are stronger in large part because of science and life-saving vaccines. We have come a long way and I am encouraged by the path forward.”
The Associated Press and Detroit Free Press contributed to this report.