Resident concerns heard in town hall
MANISTIQUE – As part of his stop in Manistique on Monday, Gov. Rick Snyder also held a town hall meeting with area residents. The town hall allowed audience members to submit questions for the governor, with topics ranging from job growth to the new International Crossing at the Detroit River.
The governor was first questioned about his plan to bring jobs and other opportunities to small communities like Manistique. In response, Snyder noted that this phenomenon would occur with a combination of factors, but would center on developing more trades people.
“It’s about skilled trades. It’s about giving the tools to be successful,” he said. “The biggest concern for most companies, and what’s going to have them decide where they’re going to locate, is where the people with the critical talents to help them be successful are.”
“Michigan is going to lead the country in bringing those skill sets back, because our people know how to make things,” he said.
“We’re going to refocus on that and make sure we’re building the most skilled, talented workforce possible.”
The tendency to push 4-year degrees would also have to end to make the state a success, Snyder said. He explained that children should be encouraged to move beyond a high school diploma, but have more options, such as a 2-year or vocational training program.
“Even with eight and a half percent unemployment in Michigan, we have over 80,000 open jobs,” he said. “It’s not simply about credentials. It’s about making sure we get credentials the right way to connect to the right place for a career.”
In another question, Snyder tackled the rising gas prices – now over $4 a gallon in most of the Upper Peninsula and state. He explained the current spike in prices was due to refinery problems in Wisconsin, and that the solution was not to build refineries in Michigan.
“We simply need Washington to get their act together,” he said. “We have lots of energy in this country and North America that we’re not optimizing.”
With parts of the Affordable Care Act going into effect across the county, Snyder was also asked about what the legislation would mean for Michigan.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to be more cost, most likely,” he said. “And it is going to be a challenge for business.”
Despite this, Snyder said the state would be “proactive and successful regardless of what the law is.” He added that Michigan would remain focused on issues he considers to be the underlying cause of the health industry’s financial problems – personal responsibility for wellness and cost containment for the patient-centered medical home model.
“Both those issues are more important, and would make more difference in our health care costs than all the Affordable Care Act put together,” he said.
The issue of Asian carp also came up during the town hall, and Snyder explained his administration would now be tackling the problem.
“One of the starting points is just education, and educating everyone about invasives,” he said. “We all need to be part of the solution here by education, by containment, by prevention, by working through all these tools.”
In regard to the new International Crossing at the Detroit River, Snyder said he made the best decision for the state by signing the agreement with Canada for its construction. The bulk of the controversy surrounding the agreement, he explained, came from one special interest group who spent more than $5 million on ads to convince the public it was a bad deal.
“This is a really great opportunity. It’s only been confused by one party who’s making a whole lot of money at our expense,” he said. “It’s about jobs; it’s about jobs throughout all of Michigan for the long term.”
With this bridge, Snyder said the state would benefit from international trade – a practice many of the companies throughout the state, including the U.P., rely on. He also noted the bridge’s construction would not place a financial burden on Michigan.
“Canada recognized our financial situation, so Canada will pay for, basically, the entire project,” he said. “So it doesn’t cost Michigan taxpayers a dime to build this crossing.”
A question of possible drilling in the Great Lakes was immediately shot down by Snyder, who said there are other, more environmentally sound opportunities for the state.
“We’re not going to drill in the Great Lakes,” he said. “That’s not going to happen on my watch.”
Mining opportunities combined with natural gas resources in the Lower Peninsula, are among the state’s safer investments, Snyder noted. In fact, he explained that fracking has been a mainstay of the state for quite a while, and currently helps fund natural resource projects.
“Michigan’s done fracking safely for a couple decades now,” he said. “We’ve fracked probably 10,000 wells plus, in the state of Michigan, no problem.”
Sen. Tom Casperson, also present at Monday’s event, took one question for the governor – regarding rising tolls on the Mackinac Bridge. He explained that the tolls have been negatively affecting businesses that use the bridge frequently.
“We’ve been working with the bridge authority on this,” said Casperson. “The tolls are being raised to get ready for a complete facelift (of the bridge’s decking) … it is hurting some of these smaller companies in the process.”
The plan is to create a credit system with the bridge authority to assist suffering businesses, he added.
Another potential issue for businesses – Michigan’s transformation into a “Right to Work” state – would not become one at all, Snyder said. He explained that he has more important items on his agenda than an issue that has caused other states, such as Wisconsin and Ohio, to engage in constant fighting within their states.
“We couldn’t afford to be fighting,” he said.
The issue of taxing retirement income also came up during the town hall, and Snyder defended his decision to revamp the Michigan income tax law.
“That was a big controversy, and I appreciate why,” he said.
He explained that, while he didn’t need to address this issue when coming into office, he also didn’t want to postpone the problem and leave it to future governors or the children of the state. A problem created by the law in 1960 could have only been corrected by doing what was right, Snyder added.
“Step back and think for a second,” he explained. “If you have a senior who happened to work in the right place and has the right kind of retirement income and not paying any tax, where another senior might still have to be working and would be subject to Michigan income tax on their wages – is that a fair answer?”
Snyder explained that the population of the state is getting older, and, therefore, more and more people would not be paying tax, leaving young people with the burden.
“We were basically telling our young people that they were going to have to pay more in tax at the same time we were telling them that we wanted them to stay in our state,” he said. “That’s not an honest answer.”
The new system will have a lengthy transition period, Snyder added, which would aid those in or approaching retirement age with the change.
“Seniors still have advantageous treatment,” he said. “The taxation of seniors will still be more favorable than it will be for any other citizen, in a relative sense, but we’ve now addressed an issue that was basically creating a barrier to tell our kids to get out.”