Ask Your Candidates
As we approach election season, it’s important to engage with candidates and find out what they think about the issues that matter to you. Our analysts put together this set of questions that will help you discover your candidates’ positions. Click below to easily access the issues that matter most to you and your community.
TAXES AND REVENUES
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a significant poverty reduction tool that increases labor force participation and injects money back into local economies. In 2006, Michigan created its own state-level EITC based on 20% of the federal tax credit. The governor and state lawmakers reduced the Michigan EITC to 6% in 2011.
Would you support fully restoring the state-level EITC to 20% of the federal tax credit?
Michigan is one of only seven states that continues to rely on a flat income tax rather than a progressive income tax, like the federal income tax. States with progressive income tax structures tax income at higher rates as income rises, making it a more modern and equitable system. Changing our income tax system will take a constitutional amendment.
Would you actively support a constitutional amendment to change Michigan’s income tax structure from a flat income tax rate to a graduated one?
Sales taxes are typically considered to be a highly regressive type of tax, costing individuals earning low wages a larger proportion of their income compared to wealthier individuals. Modernizing the sales tax to apply to services can serve to both increase revenue and make the sales tax less regressive. Even still, the sales tax will remain regressive, which is the reason some states offer sales tax credits to provide relief for individuals who earn the least.
Would you support extending the state’s sales tax to services with a sales tax credit for filers with low wages?
While Michigan’s actual tax revenues have grown year after year, when adjusted for inflation, 2019-2020 General Fund revenues were below 1968 levels and the School Aid Fund was below levels set in 1995. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis has eviscerated income tax and sales tax revenue. At the same time, the costs of providing Michigan residents the most basic services have grown, increasing pressure on our budget. This has meant that programs have had to be funded at the expense of others, furthering Michigan’s disinvestment in its communities, education and other services on which its residents and businesses rely.
Would you support exploring new revenue sources or expanding existing ones, for example eliminating outdated and unnecessary tax exemptions or credits, to fund vital state services?
Michigan’s personal income tax contributes nearly $10 billion to our state coffers. It provides nearly one-third of our total state revenues, more than 1 in 5 of every state dollar for schools and more than $7 out of every $10 of our state General Fund. Some lawmakers have proposed steep cuts to—or systematically rolling back to 0—our state income tax rate. This would put at risk billions of dollars that are currently used to invest in our schools, public universities, community colleges, infrastructure, healthcare and public safety. On top of limiting our ability to invest in the things we all rely on, income tax rate cuts disproportionately benefit high-income earners while providing little to families with low incomes.
Would you oppose efforts to cut or roll back Michigan’s income tax rate?
A triggered income tax rate reduction was implemented as part of the 2015 road funding plan. Starting in 2023, income tax rates will reduce if state General Fund revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation (the law puts in place a General Fund cap that is calculated by adjusting base year revenues by 1.425 times the cumulative inflation; General Fund growth above this cap would trigger an income tax rate reduction). Triggered rate reductions may ultimately hurt Michigan’s economy, budget and residents because we do not know whether they will be affordable once triggered, they can trigger during economic downturns or other times when revenues are badly needed, they primarily benefit the top 1% of taxpayers, and they enable policymakers to claim credit for cutting taxes while avoiding accountability for the consequences.
Would you support repealing the triggered income tax cuts and instead look at tax policies that encourage economic growth and help families with low incomes make ends meet, such as a graduated income tax or restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit?
HELPING MICHIGANDERS THRIVE
Since the Great Recession ended, housing prices have risen much more quickly than incomes. As a result, many families—especially those who rent—have to forego other necessities like healthcare and food, experience significant disruptions in school and work due to frequent moves, or become homeless. The shortage of affordable housing has a broader impact on the state and local economies, too—in some communities, employers report difficulty filling open positions because workers can’t afford to live within a reasonable distance of the job. Illness and the sudden and massive job losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened these problems—many households that were already struggling to pay rent have been pushed into crisis, leaving them vulnerable to displacement or homelessness once eviction moratoriums are lifted. Michigan allocated some CARES Act funding to rental assistance, but this money will last only a few months at most. Many families will continue to experience financial hardship in the long term, especially after July 31 when enhanced unemployment benefits are scheduled to end.
Would you support the creation of a more long-term state rental assistance program to ensure that families with low incomes continue to be safely and stably housed as they recover from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis?
The Legislature created a state housing trust fund—the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund (MHCDF)—in 2008 but has allocated only two rounds of one-time, limited funding to it since then, most recently in 2012. Funded projects, which included construction or rehabilitation of affordable housing for older adults, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness, attracted as much as $11 in new investment for every $1 of MHCDF money and created thousands of jobs.
Would you support the creation of a dedicated, continuing source of revenue to fund the MHCDF?
Federal rental assistance is provided primarily through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, under which private landlords receive direct monthly payments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to offset rents for tenants with low incomes. Many landlords, however, will not accept HCVs as a form of payment or include them in calculating whether a tenant has enough income to qualify for a lease. Some landlords similarly discriminate against families with other legal sources of income, such as veterans’ housing vouchers and Social Security.
Would you support a law protecting tenants or prospective tenants from discrimination based on their source of income?
SNAP food assistance benefits are generally too low as they have not kept up with food prices. While families who receive at least $20 in heating assistance automatically qualify for additional federally funded dollars in food assistance through a federal program known as “heat and eat,” many SNAP-receiving families who do not receive heating assistance would also benefit from the additional SNAP dollars. Michigan provides such families a small amount of heating assistance to allow them to qualify for additional federal food assistance, enabling them to receive an additional $76 per month.
Do you favor the continued support of the “heat and eat” policy that allows more families with low incomes to receive additional food assistance?
The state’s policy currently bans individuals with more than one drug felony conviction from receiving SNAP benefits. Drug felonies are not uncommon: in 2017, drug felonies comprised 28% of all felony convictions in Michigan; for thousands of individuals, a second drug felony conviction means they will be barred from receiving assistance to support themselves or their families for the rest of their lives. Despite research demonstrating that allowing access to food assistance creates a pathway to successful reentry and reduces recidivism, Michigan’s restriction continues to limit otherwise-eligible residents from receiving assistance that can provide greater economic stability and affordable food for families, including children.
Would you support eliminating Michigan’s ban on food assistance for people with more than one felony drug conviction?
Given the high cost of child care, without assistance many parents find themselves in the difficult position of relying on unstable or even unsafe arrangements for their children or placing their jobs in jeopardy. And, we now know that high-quality child care can help children develop and be more ready for preschool and ultimately for school success. The number of families receiving child care assistance has dropped dramatically in Michigan in part because of state-set eligibility rules and because payments to providers are low. Further, many child care providers who were closed during the COVID-19 public health crisis are worried that they won’t be able to afford to reopen with sufficient sanitation and protective equipment and procedures.
Would you support the use of state and available federal funds to expand child care subsidies to more families with low incomes, increase payments to providers and improve the quality of child care?
ADDRESSING CHILD POVERTY, EDUCATION, AND ABUSE AND NEGLECT
More than half (54.9%) of Michigan third-graders did not demonstrate proficiency in English Language Arts (reading and writing) in 2018-19. There are significant disparities in outcomes by income, race and ethnicity with higher rates of children of color and children in families with low incomes scoring “not proficient.” Current state law requires that third-graders who are not proficient in English Language Arts, as measured by the state test, can be retained to repeat the grade; however, if the student is proficient in other subjects, then instruction for those may be given in a fourth-grade classroom. Alternate tests and portfolios may be used to document reading skills and some good cause exemptions are provided; however, the school superintendent would make the final decision. The law also outlines interventions and steps that schools must take to improve third-grade reading proficiency.
Would you support adequate funding to support the implementation of the law with targeted efforts in areas with the most need?
Child poverty rates in Michigan have improved by just 5% since 2005. Today, nearly 1 in 5 children in the state lives in a family with income below the poverty level: $20,800 for a family of three and $25,700 for a family of four. Even more, 42% of Michigan households struggle to afford a bare bones budget. Several policy initiatives to alleviate childhood poverty have been suggested, such as reinstating the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC, expanding cash assistance, raising the child care subsidy and eligibility so parents earning low wages can have access to child care, and investing in adult education and other workforce development opportunities.
Would you support any of these initiatives?
Michigan has been a leader in investments in preschool programs for 4-year-olds, but funding for families with infants and toddlers living in poverty or near poverty has not kept pace—despite scientific evidence that the first three years of life are when children’s brains are growing most rapidly, affecting their lifelong development, learning and achievement.
Would you support additional state funds for proven programs for parents of very young children, including home visiting, parenting programs and Early On?
The rate of children confirmed as victims of abuse and neglect has steadily risen over recent years with a rate increase of over 33% between 2010 and 2018. Children of color and young children are at higher risk of being confirmed as victims and being placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect. The trauma experienced can impact child development and health outcomes.
Would you support state investment to prevent child abuse and neglect and comprehensive strategies that have shown to reduce abuse and neglect, including an expansion of home visiting programs?
FLINT WATER CRISIS
In April 2014, Flint switched its drinking water source to the highly corrosive Flint River, and a decision to not properly treat the water caused lead to be leached from the pipes into the water. This resulted in thousands of Flint residents, including children, being poisoned by the water they drink daily. Unfortunately, lead poisoning has no cure and all Flint residents, especially children, will require lifelong services to help detect and treat developmental and educational delays and health problems caused by lead. Furthermore, lead continues to be a problem in almost all of our communities, either through lead pipes or lead in paint in older homes, and it needs to be remedied statewide.
Would you support continuing to provide long-term funding to help residents affected by the Flint water crisis? Would you also support looking at a statewide solution to abate existing lead, prevent future poisoning and provide services to those already affected?
JOBS AND THE ECONOMY
Workers who are laid off, or who work in low-paying jobs, can often improve their financial situation by building skills and getting recognized credentials. This is especially important for those raising children. However, Michigan’s financial aid grants are not available to workers who have been out of high school more than 10 years who wish to get a degree from a community college or public university. The governor has signed into law a program called Michigan Reconnect that would fill in this gap and enable many older workers to receive postsecondary education from a community college, university or training center, but the program was not funded this year due to the coronavirus emergency.
Would you support funding in the coming year for Michigan Reconnect to help older workers get the skills they need for family-supporting jobs?
By partially replacing wages that have been lost due to a layoff, Unemployment Insurance not only helps workers who have lost their jobs, but also helps local economies by enabling those workers to continue to purchase necessities from businesses in their communities. However, the coronavirus and the resulting necessary closing of businesses revealed the weaknesses in Michigan’s current Unemployment Insurance policies. Michigan’s maximum weekly benefit of $362 has not been updated since 2003 and covers far less of a worker’s wages than the standard of 58% of the average weekly wage that was in Michigan law until the late 1990s, or the 2/3 wage replacement standard recommended by experts. It is much lower than the maximum benefit in other Midwest states.
Would you support increasing the maximum weekly UI benefit to at least 58% of the average weekly wage?
Michigan is one of very few states that allows unemployed workers to receive up to only 20 weeks of Unemployment Insurance (UI) while they look for jobs—nearly all other states have a maximum of 26 allowable weeks of UI. While many or most unemployed workers find another job within 20 weeks of becoming unemployed, it is important that they have additional weeks of UI up to the full 26 weeks if they do not find work, to prevent further family disruption. The 26-week maximum was restored during the coronavirus emergency, but will revert back to 20 weeks after the emergency is over unless legislative action is taken.
Would you support permanently reinstating the 26-week maximum for unemployed workers to receive UI while they look for work?
Despite the documented successes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including cutting the number of uninsured Michiganders in half from 2010 to 2018, the Trump Administration has attempted to erode much of the law, primarily through administrative changes. In addition, making its way through the courts is the Texas v. United States lawsuit, which is the most recent attempt to repeal the ACA. Michigan has joined 20 other states in defending the federal healthcare law. The expansions and protections afforded through the ACA have proven vital in the response to COVID-19, yet if the ACA is ultimately invalidated, more than 700,000 Michiganders could lose their health insurance coverage and the 4.1 million people in Michigan with a pre-existing condition could lose the protections afforded to them under the healthcare law.
Would you support the ACA, aligning with Michigan and the 20 other states who are defendants?
There are a number of established programs that help all moms and babies thrive. Home visiting is a highly successful strategy to improve the health and overall well-being of pregnant and parenting families. Family planning programs support the health of all women—mothers or not—across their life course. This year, Gov. Whitmer made Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies an integral component of her proposed budget, which would strengthen these programs by extending Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, expanding home visiting capacity by 1,000 slots and improving access to behavioral health and family planning services.
Would you support Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies and these proposed initiatives?
Under the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA), states are allowed to amend their state Medicaid plans to provide CHIP (MIChild) and Medicaid coverage to eligible lawful permanent resident children and pregnant women (“green card” holders who would otherwise face a five-year wait for coverage). Michigan does currently cover prenatal care for pregnant women regardless of status through its Maternity Outpatient Medical Services (MOMS) program, so the CHIPRA option would have an especially large impact on children currently excluded from Medicaid and MIChild.
Would you support amending the state’s Medicaid plan to provide CHIP and Medicaid coverage to eligible children and pregnant women who are green card holders?
For immigrants and refugees, English language proficiency can be a key to economic mobility and access to opportunities and resources within communities. According to the latest data available, approximately 40% of immigrants 5 years of age and older residing in Michigan speak English “less than ‘very well’” compared to just 3.3% of the native-born population. Community-based English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are an effective strategy for addressing low levels of English language proficiency among immigrants and refugees and are a powerful tool for social and economic integration for these communities.
Would you support funding for community-based ESL programs through a $5 million per year immigrant fund?
Until 2008, all Michigan residents could obtain a driver’s license. Yet, current Michigan law requires all applicants for driver’s licenses and state identification to provide proof of “legal presence” that must be verified by the Department of State. Lack of access to driver’s licenses means that many immigrants who cannot prove legal status cannot insure or register their vehicles. In addition to providing access to amenities and opportunities beyond one’s immediate community, a driver’s license can provide security if immigrants who are long-term residents and heads of household are stopped while driving to work, school or the grocery store, preventing arrest for driving without a license or even deportation. Access to driver’s licenses would provide social and economic support to immigrant communities and would make all Michigan roads safer because more drivers are tested and more vehicles are insured.
Would you support state IDs and driver’s licenses for all, regardless of immigration status?
As of June 2020, Congress has passed multiple bill packages to address the economic fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic and fiscal crisis. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of undocumented Michigan immigrants and their family members (including citizens) have been left out of the relief, which includes the $1,200 stimulus checks, because they filed their taxes using an Individual Taxation Identification Number (ITIN) as opposed to a Social Security Number.
Would you support the use of state funds, in conjunction with private funding, to provide economic relief to immigrant families that have been left out of federal COVID-19 relief efforts?
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
People of color are arrested, detained and incarcerated at higher rates in Michigan, as well as around the country, though national statistics demonstrate that higher crime rates do not account for this disparity. While only comprising 14% of Michigan’s population, African Americans comprise over half, or 53%, of the state’s prison population, and they are detained at a rate more than six times higher than white people.
Do you support training for police, judges and others in the criminal justice system, along with the use of a race equity policy tool, to expand understanding of the disparate impact of the system and its policies on communities of color?
An estimated 20-25% of prisoners have been diagnosed with severe mental illness and many more with mental health problems. Nine of every 10 prisoners with severe mental illness also suffer from substance use disorders, and upwards of 65% of those with mental health symptoms do not receive treatment. Michigan has recognized the need for alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from behavioral health issues by implementing mental health courts and substance abuse programs for those serving time and on probation and parole.
Do you support diversion programs and improved mental health and substance abuse treatment programs within prison facilities to expand access for incarcerated people?