Whitmer Announces Population Council, Appoints Co-Chairs
June 6, 2023
Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter
(MACKINAC ISLAND) – Reporters and supporters of Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council crowded onto the Grand Hotel porch Thursday morning to hear Gov. Gretchen Whitmer officially announce the council, which will be co-chaired by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates John Rakolta and Wayne State University Board of Governor’s Vice Chair Shirley Stancato.
Stancato, a former CEO of the Detroit leadership coalition New Detroit Inc. and former Senior VP at Chase Bank, will be the Democratic council chairperson.
“We have a collective responsibility as a state to reverse the tide of Michiganders leaving our state and attract people from outside our borders,” she said during the press conference, adding that the list includes her son, who migrated to Arizona.
Stancato said that regardless of political affiliation, it’s important to come together and improve the working and living conditions for Michiganders.
She was joined by Rakolta, a former CEO of Detroit construction company Walbridge and former diplomat serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the UAE from 2019 to 2021, who will be the Republican chairperson.
Rakolta said he’s worked with Stancato for over 25 years to address crime in Michigan, including work with the Detroit Race Relations Council and a stint on the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.
Now, turning his attention to Michigan’s population, Rakolta said, Michigan has “a number of advantages,” including a hard-working and educated population, world-class research institutions and universities and an abundance of freshwater.
“The disadvantages, however, are striking,” he said. “We have vastly underperformed the nation in terms of K-12 education. We have an infrastructure that, quite frankly, is collapsing, and most important to me is we lack the cohesion, the cultural cohesion, that it takes to compete on a global basis today.”
He said the council will attempt to address Michigan’s overall approach to attraction and retention.
In addition to the two co-chairs, Whitmer’s executive order mandates the council, which will be created as an advisory body within the Department Of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), should include 28 members, with 21 voting and seven non-voting members.
Non-voting members will include the state Budget Office director, state treasurer, director of the Department of Transportation (MDOT), CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), executive director of the Office of Global Michigan and two gubernatorial appointees, one with a background in economics and one with a demography background.
All 21 voting members will be governor-appointed, including the two chairs, director of LEO, 14 members representing the interests of the private sector, labor, workforce development and talent, infrastructure, philanthropy and education, including one member under 25 years old and four total members from the legislature.
The original proposal named legislative quadrant leaders outright, but Whitmer’s signed executive order only specified that four members of the legislative branch “may participate,” with one Republican and one Democrat from each branch.
It does not seem likely that Republican quadrant leaders will get on board, after House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo) spoke on Michigan’s Big Show about the council likely being political cover for a tax increase.
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) also spoke out against the council, calling it an overstep of the legislature and a failed effort at bipartisanship.
“Just as we saw with her disastrous unilateral policies during the COVID crisis, Gov. Whitmer is again seeking to go-it-alone and usurp the Legislature, now controlled by members of her own party for the first time in 40 years,” Nesbitt said. “Anyone can see her self-spun ‘bipartisan’ council, appointed solely by her, is actually a far cry from bipartisan.”
Republicans originally proposed an alternative to only Whitmer appointments to the council, a proposal, which was apparently unsuccessful.
Nessel added that Michigan’s slowed population growth is a serious concern for the state’s future, and should “inspire all sides of government to come together and compromise to find real solutions. Instead, we are seeing more self-centered division pushed by our very partisan governor.”
But House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said that regardless of whether legislative Republicans get on board, there will be bipartisanship on the council.
“You’re going to have a variety of different views and people from different parties that are going to be engaged,” he said. “There is bipartisanship baked in there, and I think that’s going to be a benefit.”
Whitmer’s executive order charged the council with identifying data-driven goals to “grow the state’s population, improve educational outcomes from preschool through postsecondary education, attract and retain talent and build long-term, sustainable infrastructure.”
The council will establish four workgroups: jobs, talent and people; infrastructure and places; preK-12 education; and higher education. Workgroups could include both voting and non-voting members, state department representatives or members of the public.
The first meeting will take place on or before July 1, 2023, giving Whitmer approximately a month to finalize appointments before the council must convene.
By December 2023, the council will be required to submit a report to Whitmer and the Legislature with policies to achieve the goals identified by the council, including a specific population goal by 2050; funding solutions for transportation and water infrastructure; and policy recommendations for preK-12 and higher education improvements, accompanied by funding solutions and possible revenue sources.
Whitmer said the council will focus on multi-dimensional growth, including population, economic and cultural stimulation, and added that the Mackinac Policy Conference offers an opportunity to think ahead and begin considering policy.
“This conference offers us an opportunity to think about the longer term actions we can take to help more people build a brighter future here in Michigan,” she said. “That’s why today I’m excited to be signing an executive order establishing The Growing Michigan Together Council.”
Her announcement of the council was supported by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA).
Executive Vice President Rob Coppersmith said association members are encouraged by Whitmer’s attention paid to road funding, including a recently released report that found Michigan faces a $3.9 billion annual infrastructure funding shortfall.
“We look forward to working with the council in any way we can to develop a long-term, equitable and sustainable investment plan to improve Michigan’s critical infrastructure for generations to come,” Coppersmith said. “After all, this is a quality-of-life issue that holds our state back from growing, and we shouldn’t settle for crumbling roads and bridges. “Michigan’s construction industry stands ready to fix the roads, and we look forward to being part of the solution,” he said.