Question 1): Week before last, on the Grand Hotel porch of Mackinac Island, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she was appointing a “Growing Michigan Together Council.” Why?
Because Michigan is one of the slowest-growing states in the country. In fact, we aren’t growing at all. Michigan lost more population in the first decade of the 21st century than any other state in the country except Rhode Island. In the second decade, we lost more than all states save West Virginia. In the last three years, we haven’t done any better. Detroit was still the nation’s 8th biggest city as recently as 1998; now it’s 29th.
The council is charged with trying to figure out ways to stop the population hemorrhaging. The panel will be co-chaired by businessman John Rakolta, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and Wayne State University Board of Governors Vice Chair Shirley STANCATO.
Stancato, a former CEO of the Detroit leadership coalition New Detroit Inc. and former Senior VP at Chase Bank, will be the Democratic council chairperson.
“We have a collective responsibility as a state to reverse the tide of Michiganders leaving our state and attract people from outside our borders,” she said during the press conference, adding that the list includes her son, who migrated to Arizona. Stancato said that, regardless of political affiliation, it’s important to “come together” and improve the working and living conditions for Michiganders.
She was joined by Rakolta, a former CEO of Detroit construction company Walbridge. He is also a former diplomat who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the UAE from 2019 to 2021. He’ll be the Republican chairperson.
Rakolta said he’s worked with Stancato for over 25 years to address crime in Michigan, including work with the Detroit Race Relations Council and a stint on the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.
“We have vastly underperformed the nation in terms of K-12 education,” Rakolta said. “We have an infrastructure that, quite frankly, is collapsing, and most important to me is we lack the cohesion, the cultural cohesion, that it takes to compete on a global basis today.” He said the council will attempt to address Michigan’s overall approach to attraction and retention.
In addition to the two co-chairs, Whitmer’s executive order mandates that the council, which will be created as an advisory body within the state Department Of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), should include 28 members, with 21 voting and seven non-voting members.
Non-voting members will include the state Budget Office director, state treasurer, director of the Department of Transportation (MDOT), CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), executive director of the Office of Global Michigan and two gubernatorial appointees, one with a background in economics and one with a demography background.
All 21 voting members will be governor-appointed, including the two chairs, director of LEO, 14 members representing the interests of the private sector, labor, workforce development and talent, infrastructure, philanthropy and education, and four total members from the legislature.
Interestingly, it will contain at least one member under 25 years old, but we might think there should be more, since Michigan is losing its younger population to other states at an alarming rate.
Indeed, the two Republican legislative leaders — House Minority Leader Matt HALL and Senate Minority Leader Arik Nesbitt — reacted negatively to the creation of such a council. MIRS newsletter noted that Hall spoke on the “Big Show” radio program about the council likely being political cover for a tax increase (See “Hall Looks At Gov’s New Council And Sees Tax Hikes,” 5/31/23).
Nesbitt also spoke out against the council, calling it an end-run around the legislature and a failed effort at bipartisanship.
“Just as we saw with her disastrous unilateral policies during the COVID crisis, Gov. Whitmer is again seeking to go-it-alone and usurp the Legislature, now controlled by members of her own party for the first time in 40 years,” Nesbitt said. “Anyone can see her self-spun ‘bipartisan’ council, appointed solely by her, is actually a far cry from bipartisanship.”
Could Hall and Nesbitt be right? Is the real goal of the new ‘Growing Michigan Together Council’ (which is supposedly to find ways to increase the state’s population) really all about justifying tax hikes?
Answer 1): Whitmer’s proposal is both a noble, long overdue effort to address a phenomenon that has been neglected for decades AS WELL AS an effort to provide political cover for what will surely turn out to be a call for additional state spending to “correct” Michigan’s alarming population decline. The two go together. It’s hard to imagine Michigan government can reverse years of population stagnation by spending LESS than it’s been spending for the past half-century. But whatever the new council advocates, everybody should realize it will take a long time to produce measurable results. Problem is, the pain of new tax levies will be felt by the general public far sooner than the final result the hikes will try to shape, and that will result in ‘blowback’ against the council and anybody who backs what it recommends.
Question 2): By publicly suggesting the hidden agenda of the new ‘Growing Michigan Together Council is to increase taxes, did Hall and Nesbitt make that outcome less likely to happen?
Answer 2): Not necessarily, but it’s probably a smart move for the two Republican legislative leaders — State Rep. Matt Hall and State Senator Aric Nesbitt — to frame the “council issue” the way that they have. It puts the news media and general public on notice that everyone should hold onto their wallets, because we’re going to be asked to shell out more tax money to fund whatever magic elixer the council comes up with to plug the population drain. Still, if majority legislative Democrats are in lock step with the Whitmer agenda to the extent they have been so far this year, they can do the council’s bidding notwithstanding Republican opposition. The question then will be whether they pay a big price for doing so next year and beyond.
Question 3): Is it likely that Michigan voters would view the goal of increasing the state’s population as being so desirable that the effort is worth spending taxpayer dollars and raising taxes?
Answer 3): Yes, Michigan voters might very well come to this conclusion, because Michigan’s population stagnation is a REAL THING that has been going on for decades. However, the bottom line is whether the taxpaying public really cares whether 10 million people is too few and that we should have more, or whether we don’t really care. Maybe 10 million is about the right size, and, besides, who are these new people that might be forthcoming going to be? More babies from an exploding birth rate? Suddenly immortal senior citizens who stop dying? Immigrants? Uh-oh! Who might those be?
Question 4): Republicans are expected to legally challenge the interpretation that Michigan’s income tax rollback from 4.25% to 4.05% was limited to just one year. Should observers consider that to be an opening salvo of the GOP’s 2024 campaign?
Answer 4): It may not be the ONLY ‘opening salvo,’ but it will be one of them. The Republican mantra of lower taxes will persist, and the tax percentage debate gives the party still one more argument it can be counted on to weaponize as much as possible.