In this posting:
2011 Review and the Look Ahead
Enjoy Your Holidays
2011 Review and the Look Ahead - As the legislative session comes to a close for 2011, the Legislature has accomplished significant tasks this year on behalf of Michigan's residents.
In January, we were told that we had more than a front row seat to history, we had a responsibility to make history for Michigan, and I believe we have done that. I am proud to say we will have a new agenda before us in 2012 because we went above and beyond our original agenda and are now working on what comes next. We will not rest. Literally 13 hours after the completion of our last session day for 2011, our House leadership met with the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Senate Majority Leader to being planning 2012.
The lessons of the past showed us the status quo wasn't working and, therefore, too many Michiganders weren't working. So we rapidly shed the status quo. I believe that to make Michigan a better place to find a job by making Michigan a better place to provide a job, so we've focused on making that so. We also have always remembered that the money we are spending does not belong to us, it belongs to Michigan's families and we have a responsibility to spend it wisely.
Voters spoke loud and clear last November when asking for bold leadership and change. Your needs are urgent and you sent us to Lansing with a simple command: be bold in your thinking and swift in your actions for the good of Michigan's future. I believe we're accomplishing your agenda on your behalf.
Key goals for the House Republican caucus were laid out early in the year and our focus never wavered. The volume of bills approved by the House this year is high, but the quality of the legislation's content is what matters.
The focus has been, and must remain, on the families of Michigan and what we can do to help them, especially by improving the Michigan economy. People don't pay us to stand around and blame each other; they pay us to accomplish the work at hand.
We were told our goals were too lofty because we'd never be able to get done what so many before us had tried and not accomplished for many years. We completed more this year than many people thought we could, but we won't rest. As legislators, we should never feel like our job is done because our job is to continue to move Michigan forward.
2011 Accomplishments - Among the key accomplishments this year, we:
- Reformed the tax code, worker's compensation and government regulations in the firm belief that to make Michigan a better place to find a job, you have to make Michigan a better place to provide a job. After our tax reform Michigan is now ranked in the top 20 states for tax treatment of individuals, the top 20 states for tax treatment of employers, and in the top 10 of states that have an income tax for tax treatment of senior citizens. We have reduced or eliminated special tax favors, credits, and exemptions and instead sought a more simple and fair tax code.
- Reformed Unemployment Insurance by working to pay off our long term debt, preventing higher taxes and allowing Michigan workers to make better decisions about their employment. The reforms include:
- Allowing the state to issue bonds to repay the federal loans that funded our Unemployment Trust Fund. This will help retire the more than $3 billion debt Michigan employers owe the federal government.
- Allowing workers who do accept some work to keep more of what they earn as they seek to work their way out of unemployment.
- Increasing job search requirements.
- Disqualifying employees who quit or are fired with cause.
- Updating the definition of seasonal employees.
- Lowering the threshold for 'suitable work' for some recipients.
- Allowing small businesses to spread out unemployment tax payments.
- Creating an amnesty program for employees who owe the Unemployment Insurance Agency.
- Making unemployment fraud penalties similar to those for welfare fraud.
- Crafted a structurally balanced budget, paid down long-term debt and put away in the state's savings account, all four months before it was due, and all without a net increase in taxes.
- Improved opportunities for students to get a better education by reforming teacher tenure, lifting the cap on charter schools to expand educational choices, and creating a statewide anti-bullying policy.
- Reformed binding arbitration, placed limits on taxpayer spending for public employee benefits and established a true four-year limit on welfare benefits to help break a generational cycle of dependency.
- Led by example by taking a legislative pay cut, cutting legislative office expenses by more than 10%, reducing legislative benefits and finally ending legislative retiree health care.
- And much, much more. (For comparison, you can look at Governor Snyder’s list of what he thinks were the accomplishments at Year-end interview with Gov. Rick Snyder: His victories and his biggest disappointment)
2012 Agenda: We look forward to continuing to work hard for you in 2012. My personal legislative agenda for 2012 includes (but is not limited to):
- FY 2012-13 Budget - Adopting the 2012-12 Fiscal Year budget by the end of May (as we did in 2011) with no net tax increase, while improving funding for education. The projected carryover from the past fiscal year ending September 30, 2011 (as well as the current fiscal year) and stronger state revenues from a reviving economy bode well for getting past the cutting stage. There are still areas where we can achieve more efficient delivery of services (such as in Corrections) and even complete elimination of some government functions, but hopefully the era of wholesale cuts will be behind us.
- MPSERS - Reforming the Michigan Public Schools Employee Retirement System. It currently has a $46 billion unfunded liability and school districts next year will pay either 26% or 27% of wages into the fund unless we take action to fix it. I am on the Work Group to come up with the “fix” and our House team has a proposal to reduce the unfunded liability, reduce the contribution rate, protect the expectations of employees nearing retirement, and not be too onerous on existing employees. Discussions with our Senate counterparts will begin in early January.
- Roads and Bridges - Enacting the solution to our crumbling roads and bridges. My work on the Transportation Funding Work Group and our findings that we need at least $1.4 billion more dollars per year to properly maintain our roads and bridges has set the stage for solution. No one wants to vote for more revenue, but the choices are to pay more now or pay much more later as more roads fall into poor condition needing to be rebuilt instead of needing capital preventive maintenance. It is simply fiscal prudence to avoid huge future costs. The secondary benefit of making our state more attractive to start or relocate a business and create jobs is also attractive.
- International Trade - Enhancing our international trade through facilitating a freeway to freeway connection highway route between Windsor and Detroit, a second railway tunnel between the two cities to accommodate modern railcars with double stacked containers, promoting the Great Lakes Global Freight Gateway through to the deep water port to Halifax, Nova Scotia (to capture the opportunity for a freight hub in Detroit and avoid losing the opportunity the Heartland Corridor from Virginia, through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, completely missing Michigan), etc. Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake here.
- Natural Resources/Detroit - Promoting the development of our oil, natural gas, timber and mineral resources in northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula and diverting the increased severance taxes from their extraction to reducing the blight in Detroit. We must assist in the redevelopment of Detroit, and I don’t believe that many people and businesses will want to return to Detroit until we clean up the blight. Over 80,000 homes are vacant and needing demolition, and an untold number of abandoned storefronts, businesses and factories. Again, tens of thousands of jobs are at stake in northern Michigan and in Detroit, which in turn will help everyone in Michigan.
Enjoy Your Holidays - A Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!
While the end of December and early January will include planning for next year and meeting with constituents to listen to your concerns, I also look forward to spending time with family and friends. Our family looks forward to celebrating Christmas together as we enjoy some time in Pure Michigan. I wish you and your family the best as you celebrate together and bring in the New Year.
Feedback - I regularly hear from many of you and I enjoy your feedback and ideas on how we can turn Michigan around. Please feel free to let me know what you think.