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State Senate Republican leader discusses missed opportunities in 2023, hopes for 2024

Michigan State Senator Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township)
Office of Aric Nesbitt
Michigan State Senator Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township)

Michigan lawmakers wrapped up the 2023 legislative year earlier than usual this month, adjourning the session sine die (without day) on November 14.

That closed the door on the first year since the 1980s that Republicans didn’t control the Michigan Senate.

In an interview with the Michigan Public Radio Network, Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp) said he’s disappointed with how Democrats handled business.

“If I could describe this past year in a couple of words, I would say it’s a missed opportunity. And with this Democrat majority pushing to start their Christmas break early, it seems my description will remain accurate. At every opportunity to work towards commonsense middle solutions, the Democrat majority made the conscious choice to sprint to the far left,” Nesbitt said.

Usually, lawmakers adjourn sine die in December. The last time the state Legislature went home before Thanksgiving was 1968.

“I think the biggest missed opportunities is the fact of how much of the priorities in Michigan that are left hanging. Accountability in openness and transparency in state government, haven’t gotten to that.” Nesbitt said. “Working on actually an infrastructure and a long-term plan to rebuild our roads or bridges. Haven’t seen it.”

But Democrats have repeatedly defended the choice to end earlier in the calendar year, saying the Legislature’s number of voting days for 2023 is on par with past years.

A driving factor in the choice was allowing high-priority laws, like one moving up the state’s presidential primary election, to take effect sooner. Adjourning sine die starts a 90-day clock for new laws to take effect, if lawmakers hadn’t given them approval to take effect immediately.

Nesbitt agreed with Democrats that there was some consequential legislation passed this year. But, unlike Democrats, Nesbitt said the consequences were bad. He portrayed the laws as damaging to the state’s business environment.

“From repealing the state’s Right to Work status, to passing what is one of the most extreme energy bills -- partisan extreme energy bills -- in the nation that’ll increase costs and decrease our competitiveness nationally,” Nesbitt said. “Those are two of the big highlights. I’d say a third is the way the state’s surplus started off with $9 billion in surplus money and likely ended year with a little over a few hundred million dollars. And that was spent without a real transformational mission of what it should be going to.”

That surplus, for the first time, triggered a state law requiring the state income tax rate to decrease by .05% whenever revenue outpaces inflation by certain metrics.

The governor’s office and state attorney general have interpreted that reduction as being temporary. But some Republican lawmakers and others are suing to have the new 4.05% income tax rate be permanent.

Nesbitt has been framing the state’s plans to bump the rate back up to 4.25% next year as a tax hike.

Beyond that, Nesbitt has frequently criticized the handling of the surplus as lacking inspiration.

“One of the proposals I brought to the governor and the Democrat majorities was let’s try to use half that surplus, $4.5 billion for an economic development infrastructure fund that actually goes to some of the largest infrastructure projects that are needed to land some of the big deals here in Michigan. … Let’s go ahead and pass a child tax credit. Something to encourage folks that have families that can move here in Michigan that they’re actually valued. … Let’s fix our local bridges,” Nesbitt said.

He said many of his and other Republican suggestions for the year went ignored, accusing Democrats in leadership of often going it alone.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said she sees next year bringing more chances for bipartisanship.

Nesbitt said he wishes that had started sooner, like during talks on tax policy near the beginning of the year.

“You had half of the Republican caucus willing to vote for the earned income tax credit … Just about all of us willing to work on a senior tax cut for all working seniors or all retired seniors. All seniors period. That instead they tied that with a massive, multi-billion-dollar corporate welfare handout for some of the most profitable corporations in the world to cut Republicans out of any chance of even negotiating on that,” Nesbitt said in reference to House Bill 4001.

The first legislation introduced in the state House of Representatives started as legislation to increase the state’s supplement to the federal earned income tax credit. But other policies to cut taxes for retirees and create a funding mechanism for a business incentives program were eventually looped in.

Nesbitt has frequently criticized the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund, an economic development program aimed at bringing in largescale business projects.

Bills to reframe it as the “Make it in Michigan Fund” are moving through the Legislature.

Nesbitt criticized the package as not being substantive enough.

As far as next year goes, Nesbitt says he’d like to see the Senate work together across party lines on infrastructure, government transparency, and education bills.

“At the end of the day, people expect us to get things done for the benefit of our state. Growing the economy, fixing our roads, fixing our underground infrastructure, making sure our schools are held accountable and our kids get an education they deserve. Unfortunately, the budget surplus is gone, the economy and its growth may be based on attracting more businesses here. Making Michigan a place where people want to stay and raise a family. That means no more government picking winners and losers. We need pro-growth policies that attract investment and allow small businesses to hire more people.”

Looking to one of the main duties of the Legislature for next year, Nesbitt cast skepticism on how budget negotiations would play out.

“It was unfortunate [Democrats] passed a supplemental [budget] a few weeks ago with zero Republican input, zero Republican support, a full partisan vote. And that weighs a little, not just disappointing, but I think it makes it a bit more of a challenge going into next year on how we can form a bipartisan budget,” Nesbitt said.

One prediction Nesbitt has for next year is that Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives. The House is currently at a 54-54 split as the state waits on special elections to fill two seats considered to be Democratic leaning.

Lawmakers are due back at the Capitol in January. But it’s unclear how much they’d meet before the House is back to its usual numbers, or how that temporary tie would affect business in the Senate, where Nesbitt is set to continue leading the minority party.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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