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Michigan House Republicans push MEDC oversight, regulatory review in economic plan

Michigan Capitol building in Lansing on a summer day.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.

Reforming state business incentive programs is among the top priorities in an economic development plan that Michigan House Republicans announced Wednesday.

Republicans have criticized programs like the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve, known as the “SOAR Fund.” It’s awarded large amounts of money in exchange for business investment.

Republican House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp) said the state has focused too much on helping large companies instead of small businesses.

“If you’re a small business trying to get an incentive from the state, good luck. I mean, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty. And that’s just what we hear from our constituents,” Hall said during a press conference Wednesday.

Republicans are in the minority, meaning any suggestions will need buy-in from Democrats to move forward.

But Representative Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids), who vice-chairs the House Economic Development and Small Business Committee, said she’s not impressed.

“All of the work that we’ve done in economic development so far has been to make sure that people take home real wages, that they’re protected in their job, that they have access to the resources they need, and that’s what we should be focused on as a state. I don’t believe that those proposals do those things,” Grant said.

The Republican proposal contains some echoes of a Democrat-led plan that would re-shape the SOAR Fund and require half of its money to go toward community-based investment.

Grant pushed back against the idea that the Democrats’ plan was similar to the Republican push for 50% of any SOAR program award to go toward site readiness.

“Investing in our local communities is a top priority. That’s where people are. And every community in the state is different. So, we should make sure that they have the individual resources that they need to improve people’s quality of life,” Grant said.

The Senate sent the Democrat-sponsored proposal to the House of Representatives last month.

Hall said he appreciates parts of the bill package but would prefer a different oversight mechanism. He also said he disagrees with its considerations for environmental impacts of a project.

Another part of the new Republican plan would require performance reports for efforts, including workforce placement programs.

Rep. Nancy DeBoer (R-Holland) sponsors that policy.

“This measure will ensure that taxpayer dollars allocated to these funds are being utilized effectively, efficiently, and with transparency,” DeBoer said.

Aside from reworking economic development programs, the Republican vision also includes looking at different ways to roll back what sponsors are calling a "tangled web" of state regulations and a blanket income tax cut by 0.2%.

Republicans are also asking for a return of Michigan’s “Right to Work” law that the legislative Democratic majority repealed last year with support from labor unions.

Bills in the package are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.