Reaction to governor’s speech divided along party lines

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:20 AM

“I was disappointed he didn’t give us a vision for today and also for tomorrow, for our kids,” state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, told WZZM-TV.

“I think the governor was very realistic and I’m very optimistic for the state of Michigan,” said state Sen. Meekhof, R-West Olive.

“It was a message on what we have accomplished in the past year and what we still need to accomplish to turn Michigan’s economy around,” state Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, said this morning.

Meekhof agreed with the governor that his initiatives from a year ago need to be completed.

“We need to finish the task,” he said.

On the potential surplus of $600 million on a $44 billion state budget for the next fiscal year, Meekhof was less excited.

“Say you’re a family with an income of $44,000 a year and have a $600 windfall, but you have $50,000 in credit card debt,” the Ottawa County senator posed. “What are you going to do? ... It’s not that much money, but it is good news.”

Price agreed with the senator, saying there are a lot of long-term obligations that have long been overlooked since Michigan last saw a budget surplus.

Democrats are adamant that a budget surplus remaining from last fiscal year, about $460 million, should be used to restore some education funding cuts.

“I’m very disappointed that he didn’t say that we should use that surplus money to go toward K-12,” said Rep. Richard Hammel, leader of the Michigan House Democrats.

Price said the governor’s first year in office, 2011, laid the foundation to turn the state’s economy around. She cited the lower jobless rate and the fact that the state’s manufacturing sector is in a hiring mode.

“It is time to focus on better customer service and to get out of the way for businesses to turn themselves around in the state of Michigan,” Price said.

Snyder has plenty of allies in the Republican-led Legislature, but consensus on some developing proposals — including ones to increase funding for the state’s roads and bridges — won’t be easy to find.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a proposal out there that anybody’s jumping up and down about yet,” Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Republican from Monroe, said about ideas to raise more cash for roads and other transportation projects. “But let me make this clear — we do recognize that there’s an infrastructure problem, and we will address it. How we do it, I’m not sure. Those discussions are just beginning.”

Republican lawmakers have not embraced Snyder’s plan for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Canada. Legislation that would have allowed the state to get involved in a proposed bridge project died in a Senate committee last year.

Snyder said Wednesday the proposal wouldn’t cost Michigan taxpayers anything, and the bridge is needed to boost economic development and ease traffic at the border.

But Meekhof remains opposed to the plan.

“I’m having difficulty with it,” he said this morning. “You’re competing with private business ... and (that plan) is not sustainable.”

Price has not yet made a decision on the bridge plan, saying there are a lot of factors yet to consider.

“It’s a very murky decision,” she said. “... I do agree that it is a very, very important trade corridor and it needs to be as efficient as possible.”

Snyder said he wants lawmakers to approve spending federal money to develop a state health exchange where individuals and small businesses could shop for health insurance. It’s called for under federal health reforms, and states that don’t set up their own exchanges risk having the federal government do it for them.

The Senate approved a bill that would help set up an exchange, but the House has not followed suit because of pending legal challenges and reluctance to approve anything that could be construed as connected to so-called “Obamacare.”

Snyder has said his next budget proposal likely won’t include further cuts to public schools and universities, a sentiment likely to be embraced by both Republicans and Democrats. Critics, particularly Democrats, have blasted education spending cuts made in the current fiscal year as irresponsible and unnecessary. Public universities were hit with a 15-percent reduction in state aid this fiscal year, while K-12 funding was cut by more than 2 percent.

Democrats also said they wished Snyder had made more specific proposals rather than talking about goals in general.

“I thought the speech lacked any meat,” state Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, told WZZM-TV. “I think it was a poor speech.”

“He’s very genuine,” Meekhof said of the governor. “He comes across as very genuine because he’s speaking from his heart.”

“I love that he highlighted agriculture (in his speech),” Price added, “... a marked difference from (Democratic) Gov. Granholm, who I don’t think ever talked about agriculture.”

The Associated Press and WZZM-TV contributed to this report.

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