It's been a busy year at Michigan's Capitol as we, the members of the 96th Legislature, have taken it upon ourselves to undo a decade's worth of poor fiscal planning and failed economic development.
When I was called upon to represent our community I knew that I would have to make many difficult decisions. There are no perfect solutions or quick fixes, and the path to prosperity requires that we take a realistic look at the policies that shape Michigan's present and future.
Here is a summary of some of the major steps we have taken to get our state back on track.
It’s All About Jobs
My main goal in running to by your state representative was to create a better business climate to create jobs. Stable employment is not just the cornerstone of the American dream, but also the foundation of a healthy economy. The relationship is simple: the health of the public sector is dependent on the health of the private sector, the source of all original revenue. When the private sector is healthy there are more lobs, and the state thrives. When there are more jobs, there are more public funds for education, public safety and human services.
For years, state government has put excess regulatory and tax pressure on job providers and small businesses, forcing them to lay off employees just to stay afloat. In some cases, businesses have had to shutdown altogether. Our state must look out for job seekers and job creators, as both are crucial to Michigan's vitality. We must make Michigan a competitive place to do business.
The Legislature's job-friendly accomplishments so for include:
- Simplified Michigan's tax code to make it more efficient and more predictable for job creators, minimizing risk and encouraging expansion. This includes ending double-taxation on small businesses and creating a flat corporate tax rate.
- Ended the old practice of creating niches for special interests and using tax credits to pick winners and losers among prospective businesses. Every job provider that wants to operate in Michigan should be able to do so on equal footing.
- Preserved funding for programs that have proven to spark economic development, like the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.
- Addressed outdated, burdensome regulations that place additional costs on job-creators, such as Michigan's item-pricing law.
Giving Local Governments the Means to Stay Solvent
Building strong communities must start at the local level. The greater the cooperation between state and city governments, the stronger both will be. The Legislature has given municipal government the tools to address common concerns and to manage their finances.
Reforms geared towards local success include:
- Passing the Fiscal Accountability Act to help local governments stay solvent by giving them the tools to avoid bankruptcy and address rising costs. This Act has already enabled one city, Benton Harbor, to go from a budget deficit to a surplus.
- Updating binding arbitration laws to prioritize affordability during negotiations.
- Facilitating consolidations and service-sharing for local units, allowing for greater government efficiency and preserving critical services during times of financial difficulty.
Ending an Era of Fiscal Failures
For the past decade, state legislatures seemed to have done everything in their power to avoid balancing the state checkbook. This year, the 96th Legislature faced down a deficit of over $1 billion and an economy struggling to pull itself together.
The public made it clear that enough was enough, so the new state government got down to business immediately by passing a complete and balanced budget which was:
- The realization of many needed structural reforms.
- Several months ahead of the September 30 budget deadline.
- Based on years of continuous revenue decline.
- Data-driven and geared towards long-term growth and solvency.
- Built to prioritize areas of importance, such as education and public safely.
- Designed to create a foundation for job growth and economic development.
Taking a Close Look at State Spending
In order to keep state spending solvent and prevent increasing costs to taxpayers, the House is also looking at government spending throughout Michigan with the goal of finding reasonable solutions to rising costs at the state and local levels.
Some important reforms include:
- Putting limits on taxpayer liability for public employee health care plans.
- Bringing Michigan in line with surrounding states by placing a permanent, 48-month lifetime limit on welfare assistance for able-bodied individuals. This will help break the cycle of dependency while reducing taxpayer burdens.
- Preserving state assistance for those who need it most by limiting fraud and abuse in the Bridge Card system.
Putting Our Own House in Order
My colleagues and I share the belief that working on behalf of the public is about service, not reward. To that end, the House of Representatives has worked to reduce internal spending so that we can bring public employee compensation and benefits, including those for legislators and their offices, in line with those of the private sector.
Though the Legislature represents a minor portion of the overall budget, we believe we must lead by example when it comes to reducing the cost of government on taxpaying residents. With this in mind, the Michigan House has made the following internal cost-savings:
- Enacted a salary reduction of 10 percent for all lawmakers.
- Enacted office budget reductions, from which legislative assistants are paid, by 5 percent at the start of this year, with an additional 13.9 percent decrease beginning January, 2012. Effective October 1, 2011, member offices will be limited to only two full-time assistants.
- Enacted budget reductions of 7.5 percent and 5 percent to partisan central staff and non-partisan office staff respectively, effective October 1, 2011.
Choices and Consequences; The Way Ahead
We knew that we needed to make choices that would not please everyone. I believe we have made a good start to a more prosperous Michigan and a more solvent Michigan. We have much more to do, but I feel very privileged to be a part of this legislature which has already accomplished a great deal.