Traditionally, State of the State addresses, much like State of the Union speeches by presidents, amount to wish lists for the coming year. Details are hard to come by.
But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ambitious SOTS on Tuesday set the stage for a detailed explanation of grand plans when she outlines her budget proposal in March.
We await Whitmer’s proposals to provide billions of dollars more in road funding while also boosting funds for environmental protection and K-12 education.
But her overriding goal is a state scholarship program to offer two years of free community college education for every high school graduate, or the first two years at a 4-year university, largely tuition-free, if the recipient maintained at least a “B” grade average in high school.
The initiative intends to raise the number of Michiganders with a 4-year degree, a 2-year associate’s degree or a certificate of expertise in a certain blue-collar vocation from 44 percent currently to 60 percent by 2030.
That is a big, bold proposal. But the immediate reaction among much of the Republican-controlled Legislature was: “How are we going to pay for all of this?”
GOP lawmakers have reflexively engaged in a mirror of the criticisms of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Washington, where chastened conservatives say his agenda amounts to “free stuff” for everyone.
Beyond the money issues, Whitmer must address the state’s current dilemma regarding post-secondary education where only about one-third of those who enroll in community college graduate within two years. Many drop out after being forced to take remedial education classes designed to bring them up to speed with other high school graduates.
At Michigan’s 15 public universities, student graduation rates over a 6-year period amount to less than half at many colleges. College success, at any level, is lagging. Certainly, many of the graduates of Michigan’s beleaguered K-12 educational system are not “college ready.”
So, Whitmer’s challenge in her budget proposal will be to make the case that two years of debt-free college education will substantially boost the student success rate, making nearly two-thirds of Michiganders job-ready on day one, possessing skills that are valued by the business world.
Of course, all of this may fly in the face of political realities in Lansing.
Liberal Democrats say the funding solution is to repeal the $1.8 billion in corporate tax cuts imposed by former governor Rick Snyder, which have produced minimal evidence of providing incentives to lure new companies to Michigan.
But a tax hike for business would surely be DOA in the Republican House and Senate.
The response to Whitmer’s upcoming budget plan in Lansing might be rather deflating: That won’t fly, so what’s next?