Opinion: Whitmer’s budget benefits workers

March 12, 2019

Source: The Detroit News
Author: Ron Bieber

Last week, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer presented her first budget proposal the headlines all seized on the proposed gas tax increase. Because of all the attention paid to this one aspect, many missed hearing about other key details and recommendations which would greatly benefit Michigan’s working families.

Here’s the most important thing missed in this budget presentation: After nearly a decade of shell games and rosy outlooks, Michigan citizens were finally given a frank assessment of the true cost of years of neglect and failing to invest in our state’s critical infrastructure.

Maintaining our roads is not the only place we are falling behind. Our water infrastructure needs repair. Our schools and students need more resources. Working men and women need more opportunities to update their skills or learn new ones. The budget proposed by Whitmer seeks to address these issues, as well as the imbalance in our taxation policy.

The governor’s budget proposal recognizes the state of disrepair of our water infrastructure and our unquestionable need to guarantee that every resident of the Great Lakes State has access to clean, drinkable water. The proposed $120 million investment in our water infrastructure would put women and men to work immediately replacing lines. As we learned from neglecting investment in our roads, the longer we delay making the fixes, the more expensive it will become in the future, and Michigan residents will continue to have their health put at risk.

Included in the budget proposal is a once in a generation increase in school funding of $507 million. More importantly, it is a thoughtful plan that recognizes that not all students learn the same, and so it specifies increased funding for students with learning disabilities and those who are at risk. It is a more equitable way to ensure our educators have the resources to provide the best learning experience for our students. The plan also calls for expanding preschool opportunities, which not only helps our children get a head start, but helps working parents as well.

And the educational opportunities are not just there for the young. The Michigan Reconnect Program will provide working men and women the chance to learn a new skill or trade and put them on a path to earning a wage that can sustain a family.

Eight years ago, we saw a massive shift in tax policy that lowered taxes for corporations and the wealthy and put them onto the backs of the folks who can least afford it. This proposed budget seeks to shift that balance back in favor of working people in two significant ways.

First, it would repeal the Retirement Tax, giving roughly 400,000 seniors an average additional $65 a month in their pockets. The plan also calls for doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit, which will benefit working, low-income families. A final detail that has gone unnoticed by many is the proposal to expand the state’s Double-Up Food Bucks program. This will help families who rely on food stamps to have greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables while also supporting Michigan’s agricultural industry.

What is important for all of us to keep in mind is that the governor’s budget proposal is the beginning of months of negotiation. While the final version may look different from what was proposed last week, state budgets should be a value statement that reflects the priorities of the citizens of Michigan. I hope that the legislature will seriously consider these meaningful changes that will benefit Michigan’s working families.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices 

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.

First published in The Detroit News on March 12, 2019.