Opinion: Whitmer's budget delivers welcome progress

Ron Bieber

After spending the last year insulting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and attacking various proposals, Republicans had to have been expecting to savage her budget proposal, released last week before a joint House and Senate session in Lansing. 

That’s why it was so encouraging to see the measured tones and even praise for some of its elements, starting in the wake of the State of the State address and carrying through into last week. 

The governor rolled out big ticket items that would’ve been difficult to oppose, like investing in programs to prevent infant mortality and environmental cleanups. But this is the Republican Party, which proudly works to take away affordable health care and slash taxes for the very wealthy. They’re led by a president who bizarrely slammed “government schools” last week in his State of the Union address. It’s difficult not to be cynical about their capacity to oppose the most common sense, popular public programs. 

However, their criticism was tempered and they even admitted some shared priorities with Whitmer, granting a measure of hope for those who would like to see a calm and efficient state budgeting process this year. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives her Michigan State of the State address at the Capitol.

Additionally, she announced executive action in some areas where she can deliver meaningful change for Michigan families without interference from the Republican legislature. 

The banner headline from the State of the State address was her plan to quit waiting for the Republicans to act, and take action herself to finally fix the damn roads. Using her executive authority to issue bonds, Whitmer will be injecting an extra $3.5 billion into repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges, doubling state investment in our infrastructure over the next five years and bringing orange barrels and smooth travels to all corners of Michigan. 

Unfortunately, this plan will only address state highways and trunklines, so it’s not a long-term solution. Local roads are still in need of a fix — one that would’ve been forthcoming had the Legislature supported the governor’s plan to increase the gas tax, or proposed a realistic plan of its own. Republicans should adopt Whitmer’s relentless focus on actually getting things done for families and finally propose a serious plan to raise revenue to fix the roads.

But it is progress, long overdue after years of underinvestment in the priorities that Michigan families share.

Another executive action that the governor is pursuing is expansion of the rules governing overtime pay, so that 200,000 more workers will be fairly compensated for the hours they work. 

Her continued commitment to a bold plan should be lauded. Changing overtime rules would put more money in the pockets of hardworking Michigan citizens, and allow them to spend more time with their loved ones.

We are hopeful that the new rule uses the ALICE Rule and sets a wage threshold that increases the number of Michiganians who are lifted out of poverty, that it goes further than the federal government and includes indexing tied to inflation, and that it refrains from excluding employees in specific industries. These provisions would make Michigan — and the governor — a national leader in overtime protections provided to our salaried workers. 

All of these measures help reinforce the governor’s focus on taking action for hardworking Michigan families. They deliver real results that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of these families. And they continue the theme of a new state government, one that measures progress by actually making positive change. It’s a breath of fresh air that’s moving our state forward.

Ron Bieber is president of Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices

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