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Michigan Consensus Policy Project, Michigan Future Inc., Michigan League for Public Policy

Expanding Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit for Working Families

Goal: To significantly expand Michigan’s EITC, at least restoring it to its original 20%.

Situation Overview:

Signed into law by Michigan’s own President Gerald R. Ford in 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides a tax credit to low-income working households to help make ends meet, covering costs like childcare, school supplies, gas and auto repairs, and home necessities. The federal tax credit saw substantial expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, and 31 states have since developed match programs to further the impact of the EITC. The tax credit has broad political popularity, and leaders from both parties have embraced it as a powerful tool to help lift families up and out of poverty. In 2006, Michigan implemented a state match of the federal EITC to 20% of the federal credit. But in 2011, Michigan’s EITC match was slashed to 6% in a series of severe budget cuts that year.

The next decade saw several failed attempts by numerous groups and coalitions to restore Michigan’s EITC to 20%, and traction of the issue was hard to attain in the legislature. In 2022, Martin Waymire developed a strategic advocacy campaign that brought together a diverse, bipartisan coalition of nonprofits, business groups, religious and health organizations, and other stakeholders to expand Michigan’s EITC to a 30% match of the federal credit.

Research:

Our campaign budget was limited and did not allow for statewide polling. Secondary research included:

  • Analysis by Michigan Future, Inc. using Michigan Treasury data showing EITC expansion would support more than 730,000 low-income families – and nearly 1 million children – with a more than $500 million annual tax credit to help make ends meet, boosting EITC recipient households from an average of $30 per month to $150 per month.
  • Interactive maps created by the Michigan League for Public Policy, highlighting Michigan EITC program participation and economic impact data, broken down by county, state Senate and state House districts (sourcing 2019 IRS data).
  • Tracking other state EITC legislative efforts through the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Action Plan & Communication Overview:

Timeframe: January 2022 – March 2023

Campaign Goal: To significantly expand Michigan’s EITC, at least restoring it to its original 20%.

Strategies:

  1. Build a diverse, bipartisan coalition of nonprofits, business groups and other leaders to publicly support EITC expansion.
  2. Use earned media stories, interviews and opinion pieces to create public pressure on lawmakers to pass the legislation.

Coalition Building: Martin Waymire brought together Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Monique Stanton, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson, Michigan Consensus Policy Project co-founder and respected former legislator Ken Sikkema, and Michigan Future President Lou Glazer to lead the coalition. These leaders relied on their extensive networks to recruit influential organizations to join, and membership grew exponentially. Martin Waymire managed the coalition efforts throughout the process, organizing regular meetings, creating and executing coalition plans, and developing toolkits. As we reached moments where groups might nitpick certain aspects of the legislation, we agreed to remain laser-focused on the core issue: securing a significant expansion of Michigan’s EITC.

Media Events: In April 2022, we held a virtual press conference announcing the formation of the bipartisan Michigan EITC Coalition featuring coalition co-chair Ken Sikkema, former Michigan State Treasurer Nick Khouri, and leaders from the Michigan League for Public Policy, the Michigan Catholic Conference, United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce. A month later, at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s premier policy event, we held a press conference to announce legislative and business community support for EITC expansion, featuring the bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Ann Arbor), and the state’s most powerful business voices from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, the Small Business Association of Michigan President, and the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. In November 2022, we held a media roundtable featuring Michigan Future president and coalition co-chair Lou Glazer and former state senator Peter MacGregor, calling for action on the EITC legislation during the lame-duck session.

Other Earned Media: Throughout our campaign, we maintained a steady presence in key media outlets that were likely to be read by the lawmakers we were attempting to influence. When we needed to encourage Republican support, we had leaders from the business community author columns that ran in right-leaning publications, such as The Detroit News. When we needed to influence Democratic lawmakers, we had leaders of left-of-center organizations author columns in left-leaning publications, such as the Detroit Free Press. Additionally, we showcased the bipartisan support of EITC expansion by pairing unlikely allies together as column authors.

Digital Advocacy: With a limited budget, we developed a digital advocacy plan that included an advertising campaign to encourage the public to send emails to lawmakers in support of EITC expansion. The result of the campaign was 138 emails sent to target lawmakers encouraging their action on the issue. Additionally, we placed ads in two e-newsletters that are closely followed by lawmakers (Gongwer & MIRS) encouraging their support of EITC expansion. By targeting publications closely read by lawmakers, we showcased the coalition and the broad support of the issue to further develop an environment in the legislature for the passage of the bill.

Evaluation:

Our original goal was to pass the legislation by the end of 2022 so that people filing in 2023 could immediately benefit from the tax credit. The Michigan political environment shifted unexpectedly and dramatically in late 2022, with Democrats taking the state House and Senate and retaining the executive branch for the first time in 40 years. This created an incredibly uneventful lame-duck session, with no incentive for the legislature or governor to move on anything until the new year. Our new goal in 2023 was to reintroduce and quickly pass legislation in the first quarter with retroactive application, so people filing by April 2023 for the 2022 tax year would benefit. Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet sponsored the new legislation, which was similar to the 2022 bill but better in that there was no phase-in to 30%. EITC expansion was adopted by Governor Whitmer as a key initiative and was the centerpiece of her 2023 State of the State address in January. In a contentious legislature, we helped pass the legislation by late January 2023, with near-unanimous, bipartisan support in both chambers, passing 27-11 in the Senate and 100-8 in the House. The governor signed the bill on March 7, 2023, with many coalition members surrounding her at the signing event. Reimbursement checks for the 2022 tax year are being sent out in February 2024, totaling an estimated $385 million in additional support for Michigan’s working families thanks to the expanded EITC.

We recruited 230 organizations and leaders to join the coalition. We increased EITC mentions in Michigan media by 617%, from 234 stories in 2021 to 1,678 stories in 2022. In 2023, more than 3,000 stories mentioned the Michigan EITC. We also helped write or place 11 total opinion pieces, including one in the Detroit Free Press, two in The Detroit News, two in Crain’s Detroit Business and one in Bridge Michigan.

We offer clients our commitment to Michigan, because our driving passion is making our home state a better place.