August 6, 2023
Though the Legislature adjourned June 29 and doesn’t intend to return until September 5, there has been a lot of legislative and executive branch news of importance to SERA-Nade readers.
REMOVING $300 CAP ON OUR 3% COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT (COLA)
Michigan SERA has asked Governor Gretchen Whitmer to support solving the problem of the $300 cap on State employees yearly defined benefit pension annual allowance in her planned Fall Policy Agenda Address scheduled for August 30. The following message was sent to her on August 4 explaining the problem and suggesting re-introduction of Senate Bill (SB) 775 as a solution:
In your fall policy agenda speech, Michigan State Employee Retirees Association hopes you will mention the need to update the formula for retired state employees’ annual cost-of-living adjustment. In 1987, state employee retirees 3% annual COLA was capped at $300 per year and it wasn’t indexed to inflation. School employee retirees annual 3% COLA was not capped. Now about 85% of state employee retirees have hit the $300 cap. According to the federal government, there has been 168% inflation since 1987. Each year our pension DECLINES in value. Sen. Curtis Hertel sponsored SB 775 to address the problem last session, but it received no hearing. Please support fixing this problem by announcing this goal in your speech. (And thank you for the pension tax repeal for younger retirees!)
SERA Members — Please urge the Governor to support fixing our annual COLA by writing to her through her website at www.michigan.gov/whitmer/contact; phoning her constituent services office at (517) 335-7858; and/or mailing her a post card or letter at Governor Gretchen Whitmer, P.O. Box 30013, Lansing, Michigan 48909.
BUDGET BILLS SIGNED
The Governor signed on July 20 and July 31 appropriations bills for education and departmental budget operations for FY 23-24, respectively. Both garnered the necessary six or more Republican votes in the Senate to have immediate effect.
Education — The omnibus education budget bill contained total funding of $24.3 billion. Of this total, $19.4 billion was from the School Aid Fund generated partially through 1/3 of our 6 percent sales tax and $1.76 billion from General Fund revenues as well as $2.2 billion from federal funds. The total per-pupil foundation allowance is set at $9,608 per pupil, an increase of 5 percent or $458 per pupil.
Other highlights are $160 million to provide all public-school students free breakfast and lunch (not just those meeting family income restrictions); full funding for special education for the first time in our history; $254.6 million to expand free pre-K for up to 5,600 children, saving parents the high cost of childcare; $328 million for mental health and school safety; more resources for education and trades training after high school. $450 million was deposited into a new rainy day fund for schools.
Additionally, $370 million was budgeted for teachers, including money for the MI Future Educator Fellowship to address the teacher shortage; a $204.5 million increase, for a total of $952 million in funding for academically at-risk, economically disadvantaged students; $150 million for individualized tutoring or academic support to recover from pandemic learning losses; and $125 million to fund matching grants for school districts to change their bus fleet to electric vehicles.
Public colleges and universities will see a 6.4 percent rise in operations funding; community colleges will see a 4.9 percent increase; universities and community colleges have a 4.5 percent cap on raising tuition and fees.
Department Operations — Governor Whitmer signed a general department operations budget totaling $81.7 billion, including a General Fund (state revenue) total of only $15.2 billion. The budget was described by the administration as “a balanced, bipartisan general government state budget for Fiscal Year 2024 to grow the economy, lower costs, deliver on kitchen-table issues, and help anyone ‘Make it in Michigan’.” About 1,000 additional State employee positions are included in the budget, which means re-organizations, promotions, new hires, and more dues-paying members for State employee unions among other impacts. The budget deposits $200 million into the Budget Stabilization Fund, or ’rainy day fund,’ bringing the balance to nearly $2 billion by the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 24, an all-time high. Critics decried the high number of “special projects” funded without hearings or competitive bidding.
In the area of public health and family support, highlights include $150.6 million to increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid services to improve enrollee access; $49.5 million to implement recommendations from the Racial Disparities Task Force; $56.4 million to fund Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies; $25 million increase in support to local health departments to provide essential services; and $4.9 million over two years for Double-Up Food Bucks, boosting access to fresh fruits and vegetables for Michiganders on food assistance.
For public safety issues, the budget invests $171.5 million in public safety grants; $34.2 million to enact various recommendations from the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform, including creating a Juvenile Justice Services Division within the State Court Administrative Office and expanding the scope of the Office of the Children’s Advocate; $18.2 million to provide in-service training to licensed law enforcement officers; $14.4 million to improve safety and accountability in correctional facilities, including $7 million to outfit corrections officers with body cameras; $9 million to run a Michigan State Police Trooper Recruit School for 50 new recruits; $6.8 million to establish the Office of Community Violence Intervention Services to partner with community-based organizations already working to reduce violent incidents.
To continue rebuilding Michigan’s infrastructure, $416 million is budgeted to fix roads and build up public infrastructure; $80 million investment to support Michigan’s Bridge Bundling program to replace or rehabilitate more than 20 structurally deficient bridges; $50 million for Intermodal Capital Investment Grants to support investments in rail, marine, intercity, and local transit infrastructure that have the potential to leverage federal funding opportunities; $21.3 million for clean energy and electric vehicle infrastructure investments.
Additionally budgeted was $212 million for residential energy efficiency improvements through federal funds, lowering costs for Michiganders via point-of-sale rebates for home appliances, water heaters and more; $50 million for the Housing and Community Development Program to alleviate affordable housing needs across the state and revitalize downtown areas. Nearly $600 million for Michigan’s water infrastructure is budgeted, to protect access to drinking water, replace lead service lines, and rebuild sewers; $150 million to reopen the Palisades nuclear power plant; $23 million for improvements at Belle Isle State Park; and $23 million to create an endowment for the new Flint State Park.
In the economic development area to create good-paying jobs and bring manufacturing and supply chains to Michigan, the budget includes a $500 million annual deposit in the Make it in Michigan Fund, also known as the bipartisan Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund and $350 million for the Make it in Michigan Competitiveness Fund to win federal resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. Michigan is set to receive over $1.5 billion (4th highest in the nation) through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program to expand high-speed internet access to over 200,000 Michiganders in unserved and underserved areas across the state.
Additionally, $26.7 million is included to provide a 5 percent increase (4 percent ongoing and another 1 percent ongoing to communities that obligate all available America Recovery Plan dollars) in statutory revenue sharing to help counties, cities, villages, and townships; new dedicated statutory revenue sharing funds, 2 percent one-time, for public safety initiatives; plus, an additional $64 million over current year funding in constitutional revenue sharing payments to local communities. Watch for some of these funds to be spent on improving your local seniors’ programs.
OTHER NEW LAWS
Election Bills — The Governor signed eight bills, now PAs 81 — 88 of 2023, to flesh out more detail on voting rights adopted by voters in November 2022. SERA supported the bills in committee hearings. The final budget for FY 2023-24 allocated a total of $46 million for the implementation of both Proposal 2022-1 concerning term limits and financial disclosure for office holders and Proposal 2 concerning voting rights.
Sexual Assault Bills — Five years after the MSU physician Larry Nassar scandal and after a years-long effort, 15 bills have been signed to further protect students and others from sexual predators and prohibit health professionals from engaging in sexual contact under the guise of medical treatment. The bipartisan, bicameral packages provide another layer of protection for sexual assault survivors. The new laws are PA 46 — 51 originating from the House and PA 57 - 65 originating from the Senate
Child Marriage Banned — Six of the ten-bill package abolishing the various loopholes to evade the requirement that people be 18 to get married in Michigan were recently signed. They are now PA 71 — 76. The remaining bills will be taken up in the fall. Married people who were married before the age of 18 in the past are exempt from these new laws.
Guns in the Capitol — The State Capitol Commission has approved security procedures for the Capitol that would include banning firearms and installing metal detectors at building entrances. This would not include the grounds outside of the building.
Transparency Initiated Law — Michigan Initiatives for Action has received approval from the Board of State Canvassers to circulate a petition to make the executive and legislative branches subject to public information requests. Legislation to do the same thing has stalled for many years.
Michigan Important in Trump Indictment — Michigan played a key role in former President Donald Trump’s alleged plan to overturn 2020?s presidential election results according to a grand jury indictment released August 1. Michigan is mentioned 39 times in the 45-page indictment on pages 17-19.
Michigan False Elector Scheme — Sixteen Republicans including the party’s former co-chair and its national committeewoman are among 16 people recently charged with felonies by a grand jury for their roles in an alleged false electors’ scheme that sought to overturn now-President Joe Biden’s 150,000+ vote victory in Michigan’s 2020 election and award the state’s electoral votes to candidate and then-President Donald Trump. Notable — all are 55 or older, 12 are over 65, and two are 80 or 81.
AARP Poll — Candidates who support the issues most important to Americans ages 50+ can improve their margin significantly in close 2024 races, according to a new AARP poll. The poll, which surveyed likely voters from the 40 most competitive congressional districts, found caregiving to be a pivotal top issue for voters 50+. Americans 50+ are the largest — and perhaps the most crucial — voting bloc according to the AARP.
Voters 50+ say candidates’ stances on Social Security and Medicare are very important factors impacting their vote (81 percent and 77 percent respectively), 70 percent of these voters want candidates to support policies to help older adults live independently at home as they age. Thirty-eight percent of voters are currently caregivers, a number that doubles when those who have been one in the past or expect to be one in the future are included. Democrats have an advantage over Republicans among voters 50+ on caregiving (44 percent — 38 percent), but in a generic congressional ballot, more caregivers today vote Republican over Democrat (49 percent — 38 percent). Over two-thirds (67 percent) of voters 50+ also rate the cost of prescription drugs as a very important issue, with Democrats leading by just 3-points (42 percent — 39 percent) on their perceived handling of this issue.
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