Snyder fields schools, taxes in online town hall

Gov. Rick Snyder politely dodged a question about exactly how he'll propose divvying up a $457 million state budget surplus while answering questions from the public Thursday night during his first online town hall meeting.
AP Wire
Jan 20, 2012

The former Gateway computer executive and self-described “nerd,” who regularly uses Twitter and Facebook in his duties as governor, sat before a video camera as he took questions that came in by phone and social media. Thousands of people had sent in their queries ahead of the 45-minute session.

When one questioner asked Snyder if he would use the budget surplus to restore education funding lost to budget cuts in past years, the governor said he will address education spending in his annual budget speech Feb. 9.

“I would like to invest more in looking at education in general,” Snyder said, but added that he opposes spending more money on schools without assuring it would be effectively spent.

A retired state police officer told Snyder it was unfair to tax his public pension income when retirees born before 1953 who get Social Security don’t have to pay state taxes on that money.

Snyder said he agreed with the retired officer. Michigan began taxing public pensions for the first time Jan. 1, but Snyder wants to exempt police officers, firefighters and other public workers who don’t get Social Security from paying taxes on their pensions. Legislation containing the exemption has passed the Senate but not the House.

Snyder said he considers the state’s levy on personal property “a dumb tax” and wants to work for its repeal. But he said any changes will have to be worked out with local governments and school districts that could lose revenue if the tax is repealed.

Snyder carries an iPad wherever he goes and seems to embrace his technology-geek persona.

He has a Twitter handle of “onetoughnerd” and uses his Facebook page, Rick Snyder for Michigan, to ask for feedback on his policies.

Earlier Thursday, Snyder said he was excited for the chance to harness social media, saying he enjoys the forums “a lot more than speeches.”

“That’s my traditional favorite forum, are town halls,” he told The Associated Press in a Thursday interview in his office across from the Capitol. “I much prefer Q&A where I just get to interact (and) people ask me questions.”

More than 3,500 questions were posted on Facebook, Twitter and the state website, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.

The governor said he was using the forum to talk about the initiatives he discussed in Wednesday’s State of the State address. He was also scheduled to participate this afternoon in a televised town hall at Detroit Public Television studios in Wixom.

Snyder has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he began running for governor in 2009, and often skipped more traditional political events in favor of town hall meetings while campaigning. He expects the Facebook format to prove just as rewarding.

“It’s a great mechanism to communicate with a lot of people in a cool forum,” he said Thursday. “Forty-five minutes to answer 3,500 questions is pretty tough. But if it works, it will be a great addition to our communications toolkit.”

He said one of his resolutions for 2012 is to spend even more time meeting with Michigan residents to discuss the issues facing the state.

Snyder didn’t propose many sweeping changes for the year ahead during his second State of the State address, saying he wanted to focus instead on finishing what didn’t get done last year. That includes putting an exchange in place so the uninsured can shop for health insurance, raising $1.4 billion more for road and bridge repairs, outlawing elder abuse, fighting obesity, lowering crime rates and getting more computerized teaching used in classrooms.

The speech was applauded by GOP lawmakers but drew disappointed comments from Democrats and those who wanted more emphasis on dealing with issues such as poverty, education and job training for the tens of thousands of residents still looking for work or better jobs. They criticized the speech as being largely a rehash of the governor’s pro-business initiatives rather than addressing the problems affecting average Michigan residents.

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