Critics of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Growing Michigan Together Council Report say the plan lacks details, funding, and costs for curtailing the state’s declining population.
According to the report, which was released Thursday, the Great Lakes State ranks 49th out of 50 states for population growth, rising only 8.8% since 1980. By comparison, the entire U.S. population has grown 46.8%, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. In short, more state residents are lost annually than are gained.
The GMTC “transformational strategies” aim to vault Michigan into the top-10 in U.S. household median income, post-secondary education attainment, and net talent migration, but details on how to attain those goals are sketchy.
For example, recommendations include a massive increase in public transportation investment.
Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told The Midwesterner the GMTC recommendations may drive more residents from the state than it will attract.
“The Growing Michigan Together Council’s final report, if adopted, will be unlikely to drive population growth in Michigan,” LaFaive said in an email. “The opposite may be true, and this assertion is supported by much in the way of evidence produced by academics across the nations and time. The council referenced ‘funding’ 54 times. It’s a good bet that does not mean less of it. The likely outcome here is a raft of future and costly tax hike and restructuring proposals which could suffocate the very inbound migration and population growth the state seeks.”
LaFaive continued: “The overall report is really a roadmap to more government than to more people. Its breadth of suggested policy tacks indicates that its authors believe government can micromanage economic affairs and control the outcomes of state programs and its citizens far more than the most optimistic evidence shows.”
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce also weighed in on the report on the group’s website.
“The Chamber agrees that we need to work together to build a Michigan that is growing and flourishing,” the statement reads. “It’s especially key to improve performance within our education and workforce development systems and to address our crumbling infrastructure; however, the Council’s report is light on important details, including costs and funding, and demands further dialogue and discussion to ensure solutions are affordable and can deliver on the promises. We cannot expect to grow Michigan’s population without stable and thriving employers generating good-paying jobs and opportunities. Ensuring our Great Lakes State is home to a favorable business climate and resilient economy must be at the heart of public debate as we work to create a stronger Michigan for all.”
The GMTC catalogs the causes of Michigan’s population decline.
“Decades of apathy, structural deficiencies, and the lack of political cohesion have brought us to this point. After six months of investigation, study, and debate, it’s clear that population decline and its contributing factors are a significant threat to our state’s future prosperity and well-being. We find ourselves in an unfolding crisis and must act now. … We are lagging in median income, educational outcomes, and attainment and have fallen behind faster-growing peer states in key measures of infrastructure, community well-being, and job opportunities. We are losing more young residents than we’re attracting, and our population is aging faster than those of our neighbors.”
The GMTC also identifies political representation in Washington as one of the key concerns of the state’s falling population.
“A declining population also diminishes our state’s political representation in Congress, falling from 19 U.S. House representatives in 1970 to only 13 in 2020 (Citizens Research Council of Michigan 2023b). As Michigan’s political power declines, our priorities are less likely to be considered in federal budget and policy deliberations that directly affect our communities.”
LaFaive identified several more “fundamental problems” with the GMTC recommendations.
“It calls for a pilot program of incentives to lure people to Michigan including homebuyer and relocation ones and a new national marketing program to showcase the states, including other incentives the Great Lake State could hand out,” he said. “In addition to being fundamentally unfair to current Michigan citizens who have to pay for the pilot, national marketing programs of different sorts have failed before. The state’s Pure Michigan program has spent nearly $500 million during its life just to get people to vacation in Michigan, but research shows the program has long had a massive net negative return on investment. The council also recommends providing, or funding, for builders to create more housing, and to provide tax credits to employers for providing more housing in particular, low-income areas. The list goes on, but it shouldn’t and it suggests a discomforting view of the authors’ perceptions that the government is much more able to micromanage people and markets than it really can.”
The report notes only 30% of Michigan adults over 25 years old possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among the group’s recommendations to reverse this trend is using state taxpayer funds to pay for two years of post-secondary education.
“And while Michigan is successful at recruiting out-of-state college students, we are a net-exporter of college-educated talent, especially Black college graduates. Michigan ranks 34th and 33rd in the nation, respectively, for associate’s and bachelor’s degree attainment, and 49th for two-year completion rates (Boston Consulting Group July 2023). Fewer Black adults aged 25 or older in Michigan hold a bachelor’s degree (19 percent) than Black adults in any growing peer state or in the U.S. overall (25 percent) (Guidehouse 2023). To build a future with shared prosperity, we must develop the talent needed to drive our economy and dramatically improve these outcomes.”
Earlier this week, The Midwesterner reported the GMTC was considering offering grants, tax credits, or other tax credits to lure new residents to the state.
“Paying people to move to Michigan would be like slapping a Band-Aid on our state’s population decline,” Mike Harris, R-Waterford, said in a statement. “Families won’t suddenly change their minds and come to our state for a small reward. Unfortunately, the governor’s population council seems poised to recommend this and other extravagant new programs — paired with expensive new taxes that will make Michigan a more expensive place to live.”
Harris added: “Instead, we should be focused on cost-effective tactics to address people’s underlying concerns that have led to our lagging population. We should rebuild roads and bridges, bolster public safety, and boost education, and we must achieve these goals by strengthening standards, reinvesting our resources, and rejecting burdensome tax hikes on Michiganders.”