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Michigan governor’s budget promises free education and lower family costs, but GOP says it’s unfair

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday presented a $80.7 billion budget Wednesday that aims to boost education spending and deliver on her promise to provide students free education from preschool through community college.

The second-term Democratic governor unveiled her budget proposal in a joint session between the House and Senate appropriations committees. It follows a State of the State speech last month where Whitmer concentrated on initiatives such as free community college for all high school graduates, free preschool for 4-year-olds and continuing a free breakfast and lunch program for all students.

“My budget today will deliver on the vision I outlined a couple weeks ago,” Whitmer told lawmakers. “Lowering costs, improving education and ensuring that anyone and everyone can make it here in Michigan.”

Whitmer asked for $63.5 million to expand free pre-K to 4-year-olds and $30 million for the free community college program. Continuing to provide free breakfast and lunch would cost $200 million this year, according to the governor.

In addition to prioritizing more money for education, Whitmer also proposed increases to address the ongoing repairs of roads and bridges, provide tax credits for family caregivers and expand subsidies aimed at attracting businesses to Michigan.

Republican Senate Leader Aric Nesbitt criticized Whitmer’s budget, labeling it as mere “public relations talking points.” He said it prioritizes excessive tax incentives for businesses while neglecting support for families.

“It’s unfair to force Michigan families to pay billions in government corporate handouts as they struggle to deal with higher grocery bills and energy prices,” Republican Senate Leader Aric Nesbitt said in a statement.

Whitmer said that the two priorities that guided her budget proposal this year were “lowering people’s costs and growing Michigan’s economy.” Her office estimates that free breakfast and lunch for Michigan’s 1.4 million public school students will save families an average of $850 a year and free community college will save families an average of $4,820.

The $80.7 billion budget is a slight decline from the current fiscal year’s $82 billion budget. Jen Flood, the state budget director, described the proposal as a “return to normal” after the state experienced large surpluses as a result of COVID-era funds.

Lawmakers will now work over the next several months to pass their own budget, with a self-imposed July 1 deadline. The 2025 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Michigan’s Legislature worked at a historic speed last year to pass pent-up policy demands after Democrats gained full control of the state government for the first time in decades. But the state House will be deadlocked 54-54 — with no tie-breaker — until at least April, when special elections for two open seats are set to be held.

So far, there have been no signs that Republicans will help pass Whitmer and other Democrats’ priorities.

Republican House Leader Matt Hall slammed Whitmer’s budget proposal as being “out of step with the people of Michigan” and for not providing “real value for their tax dollars.”

Joey Cappelletti, The Associated Press