Banking & Finance, Economic Development, and Government

Michigan chambers list legislative priorities

Grand Rapids among eight to recognize need for skilled workers as top issue.

May 17, 2019
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The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and seven other chambers and organizations around the state have released a joint list of legislative priorities.

Highlighting the top issue as a need for skilled workers, the priorities support initiatives that potentially would provide jobs at businesses of all sizes across the state, the collaboration said.

The organizations outlined five priorities vital to Michigan’s progress.

The chamber and other leaders are working with the governor to discuss these priorities, particularly policies and avenues for needed funding, according to Joshua Lunger, the chamber’s senior director of government affairs. He said the hope is to make some significant headway on these priorities in the next few months.

1. Increased and dedicated revenue stream for roads and infrastructure

Lunger said most people agree “good roads are good for business, and in Michigan, we must do better.”

“The question comes down to what's the best way to get there,” he said.

He said the GR Chamber board will make a recommendation in the next couple weeks on what this revenue stream could be, which does not necessarily have to be a dedicated tax. The discussion has revolved around four key elements: how much is needed, how it should be raised, what the implementation period should be and how the resources should be allocated.

“We want to see something that's going to create a sustainable and meaningful strategy for addressing our infrastructure needs,” Lunger said.

2. Increased funding for Michigan’s Going PRO Talent Fund

Formerly the Skilled Trades Training Fund, the Going PRO program provides funding to companies that request it for talent and workforce development.

Between 2014 and 2018, more than 2,234 companies have received awards averaging more than $32,000 each to go toward talent development, improved productivity and greater employee retention, according to data from the Michigan Manufacturers Association. The average training cost per person is $962.

There is $30 million in funding in 2019 for the program, and Lunger said the chamber would like to see that increased to $50 million to $60 million.

“That's something that I think is a very achievable goal and has a lot of support statewide from different industry groups,” Lunger said.

He said the chamber has been supportive of this program since it started, being a demand-based program that can fund training as needed.

“We've really seen it take off and have a really good impact for a lot of different industries here in West Michigan,” Lunger said.

3. Expansion of the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation

Lunger said companies across the state have expressed a need for talented workers, no matter their backgrounds orientations.

“One thing we can do to make sure we're able to compete on that global scale for talent is to show people that we're a welcoming place,” Lunger said. “And this is one step that we can take.”

4. Maintaining a fair, broad-based and competitive tax structure for Michigan businesses

Lunger said the newer, simpler business tax system lowered tax burden and has helped the state economically.

Corporate income tax is a 6% flat rate, with an alternate tax of 1.8% of adjusted business income for small businesses.

5. Supporting Gov. Whitmer’s Pathways Education Attainment Strategy, modeled after Tennessee’s successful Promise and Reconnect programs

Tennessee Promise is a scholarship and mentoring program that funds community college and trades tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant and other awards. Tennessee Reconnect helps adults navigate attaining a college degree or certificate.

Lunger said the chamber is providing input to the governor and legislators on how these proposals should be crafted.

“I think bringing people together to have a shared vision for upscaling the workforce is a great way to move the needle in ways that we haven't done in the recent past,” Lunger said.

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