Gilchrist talks about what’s next for Michigan cities, education, clean energy and more
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist told the Michigan Advance on Wednesday that he is looking forward to efforts that would support clean energy, schools and continued investments into Michigan’s economy.
At the 2023 Mackinac Policy Conference, Gilchrist and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have focused on promoting inclusive policies to support Michigan families and bring more people and jobs to the state.
In an interview, the Michigan Advance asked Gilchrist what policy priorities the governor’s office would focus on, following Democratic victories this year on policies like passing gun violence, expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to include LGBTQ+ people and upcoming clean energy efforts.
Gilchrist said he wouldn’t characterize gun violence policies and the ELCRA expansion as Democratic priorities, but policies supported by the majority of Michiganders.
“If Democrats are able to get that across the finish line, that says something about how committed we are to reflecting people’s values,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist also said there would be a lot of good policy to come from the budget process. Whitmer and legislative leaders are negotiating the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget, which goes into effect on Oct. 1.
“I’m very excited about the prospect of having free breakfast and free lunch be available to every school-aged child in the state of Michigan and very excited about our continued expansions of childcare; the work we are doing to broaden eligibility for the Michigan Reconnect program by 300,000 people by lowering the eligibility age to 21, from 25; the continued investment in placemaking, and economic development,” Gilchrist said.
“These are all things that are going to help people see their futures in the state of Michigan, and are going to help us retain talent and attract talent.”
The Michigan Reconnect program offers free, in-district tuition at a Michigan community college for an associate degree or skill certificate that qualifies for the Pell Grant.
The Advance asked Gilchrist if there was potential to call a special session in the Legislature to address concerns that Republicans may prevent the budget from taking immediate effect, potentially leaving the state without funding. Gilchrist said the focus now is making sure the budget content is the best it can be.
“We laid out our values in the executive recommendation, and now post the revenue estimating conference, I think we’re still going to land in a place that reflects all those values. And I certainly hope that the Republicans will be willing to understand that investment in our communities is not something to be trifled with,” Gilchrist said.
The last special session was held in 1967.
The Advance also asked Gilchrist if Democrats would continue pursuing efforts aimed at gun violence prevention, following the passage of measures that would require universal background checks, safe storage of firearms and ammunition and a number of extreme risk protection order laws, otherwise known as “red flag” laws.
While these policies are intended to set a floor for gun violence prevention, and there are many things on the table, Gilchrist said he didn’t want to handicap that conversation.
“I think having a strong foundation has opened the door for conversations about what else may be possible. And so I don’t want to handicap that per se. But I know there are a lot of good ideas that have been introduced. Not necessarily new ideas, they’re ideas that we know can have an impact,” Gilchrist said.
As Detroit works to address shootings within the city, the City Council passed a resolution encouraging the state Senate to pass Senate Bill 208 which would allow local governments to create gun-free zones.
Democrats introduced bills in 2021 attempting to prevent the sale of magazines which can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) is currently co-sponsoring a national effort to ban high-capacity gun magazines.
As Michigan lawmakers work to shift Michigan’s energy industry to a 100% clean energy standard, the Advance also asked Gilchrist what policies he was considering to support jobs in the clean energy sector. Gilchrist said he’s been working to organize multiple state agencies to pursue regional tech hub funding from the federal government alongside while continuing to build out a new foundation for the state’s technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“We want to capitalize on the progress that we’ve made. We’re the number one state for clean energy sector job growth in the country. And I think there’s actually a really good nexus point that’ll come with that leadership,” Gilchrist said.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Michigan Advance: What have you and the governor discussed in regards to placemaking efforts in Michigan, so making sure that we have people who might want to come here, for jobs or to raise a family, and so that they want to stay here?
Gilchrist: Well, we’re going to continue to deepen the investments. You know, we had our [Revitalization and Placement] grant program that was part of the building Michigan Together program that we did in the winter of last year, that we’ve seen impact on those investments made in some of our cities across the state. I did a tour called thriving cities, where I visited 19 cities in Michigan, in 2019, and visited 24 cities in 2021, to talk about what it took to improve quality of life in cities. That means not only creating access to generational economic opportunity but investing in transit and transportation and mobility, making investments that deal with environmental quality and injustice issues, investing in affordable housing and diverse housing — that’s part of our statewide housing plan.
As a result of that tour, we’ve made a $250 million investment in our State Housing Trust Fund. That’s about building the kinds of homes that people want to live in. That’s going to continue to be a focus of ours.
Michigan Advance: As far as you know, policies targeted to families, are there any efforts they’re made to support people who want to raise their family here?
Gilchrist: No investment in family is too much. I mean, whether it’s the expansion of the working families tax credit that again, we would have loved to see an immediate effect on [but Republican legislators voted no] — that could have put money in people’s pockets this tax season. But they played games with that and didn’t want to put money in people’s pockets.
We’ve made historic investments in expanding access to childcare. As someone who dropped my baby off at daycare before I came to the island, like that’s a real, it’s a real big deal. But also the pathway that we’re going to universal pre-K is going to save families, at least $10,000 a year on average. Couple that with the investments we’ve made in K-12 education, more than any administration in history. Work on college affordability, so you know that if you had a high-school-aged kid they’ll be able to afford to go to college in Michigan with the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, getting back to [Michigan] Reconnect, tuition-free pathways. So I’m proud of those investments and we’re going to double down on them in this next budget and beyond.
Michigan Advance: As Michigan continues to make these direct investments into education, what is the state doing to make sure that these benefits can be felt by everyone, benefiting all Michiganders?
Gilchrist: That’s how they’re designed. So it’s not a matter of doing something different because that’s been designed into these programs from the outset. The Michigan Achievement Scholarship, the requirement is that you fill out your [free application for federal student aid (FAFSA)] form. And I’ve actually, literally gone to high schools to promote filling out your FAFSA so that you can be eligible for this thing, that frankly, four out of five graduating seniors this year will be eligible for some level of scholarship in the achievement scholarship program. And so we’re excited about what that’s going to represent.
Andrew Roth contributed to this story.