Coffee Hour with Senator Wayne Schmidt
Coffee Hour with Senator Wayne Schmidt, Friday, Feb 24, 2017
Braving icy road conditions and pouring rain, a group of seven of Senator Wayne Schmidt’s constituents met with him at the Loon’s Nest this morning in Fife Lake. We were welcomed by friendly staff who took our orders for coffee, eggs, pancakes, and sandwiches. On full stomachs and with cheerful dispositions, a wide range of concerns were addressed to the Senator for clarification and where he stands.
The Senator was asked what the prospects were for a bill regarding cuts to the Michigan income tax being reintroduced since HB 4001 had been defeated in the House. While the Senator said he is unfamiliar with the workings of the House, he felt the issue is dead since opposition to the proposed cuts included twelve Republicans. He said he has voted for decreases in taxes in the past where he felt citizens would benefit. It was pointed out that in this case the average household earning $51,000 a year would have received a meager $82 per year while creating a $2 billion shortfall by 2018 without raising alternative revenues which would have resulted in cuts to K-12 public education, universities and community colleges and safety net programs the poor and working middle class families (Letter from David Hecker, President of the AFT Michigan, Feb 23, 2017, www.ActionNetwork.org).
Dovetailing into funding for education, the Senator emphasized his background growing up in a family of educators, and his support for increased funding returning to levels that existed prior to the 2008 financial collapse. Members expressed concerns over school closings, in particular the three schools that were closed in Grand Traverse County last year alone. The Senator felt other issues besides funding were involved such as aging school buildings, and reductions in student populations. The point was made that administrators were overlooking an opportunity to reduce classroom sizes that are known to be a factor in increasing student achievement levels. The Senator felt that school funding will continue to increase overall.
On the issue of deportation of illegal nationals from other countries, particularly Hispanic and Latino populations, members of the group pointed to the fear levels raised in response to Trump’s rhetoric, that they weren’t sending their kids to school, not attending church or going to market for fear of being arrested and deported. The Senator felt these fears were overblown and whipped up by the media. A member pointed out that such policies affected the lives of hard working immigrants whose whole life was tied up one hundred percent in this issue, and that their fears were completely legitimate.
The Senator expressed the need for increased H2A Work Permit Visas since our tourism and agricultural sectors depend on this population to expedite timely harvests and getting produce to our markets, as well as filling seasonal jobs in hotels such as on Mackinaw Island where the island population simply isn’t large enough to fill demand. Members stressed the need for a legal path to US citizenship for those immigrant families who have lived here, in some cases for decades, who are hardworking, who pay taxes, send their kids to university to become skilled contributors to society. That polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support such a policy. www.gallup.com/poll/184577/favor-path-citizenship-illegal-immigrants.aspx, and www.gallup.com/poll/193817/republicans-favor-path-citizenship-wall.aspx.
Almost everyone wondered where the Senator stands on shutting down Line 5 in the Mackinaw Straits. A long discussion ensued regarding on-going studies due out in July of this year that will give the public the statistical probability of the pipeline’s failure. Asked if that probability reached the hypothetical level of 50%, would that induce the Senator to support the line’s shut down, he replied emphatically, “yes!” He said he has also been hard at work for funding to replace aging parts of the Sioux Locks which has been met with resistance in the State Legislature.
A resident of Fife Lake who was employed in the oil and timber industries here in Michigan for many years wondered why revenues from these natural resources, as well as revenues from the Michigan Lottery aren’t enough to replace the revenue now raised by the income tax. In his estimation, he felt they should be. Senator Schmidt explained that not all that revenue goes into the general fund, and that it is not all funneled into the Michigan budget. That while lottery revenue was indeed marked for education, legislators have opted to reduce the general fund by the same amount so that schools have not seen the intended increase in funding. A discussion then ensued as to over load of regulations on the oil industry regarding inspection of lines, etc. It was pointed out that regulations are protections that are necessary, that even the oil and gas industries acknowledge their necessity, that it helps them as well. While the Senator agreed, he wondered if insisting on line inspections every two miles versus every five miles might not demonstrate regulation over load.
Finally, the issue of roads was brought up by a member who said roads in the Acme neighborhood are in badly in need of repairs. The Senator basically said that townships and counties are responsible for road maintenance and that State funding goes mainly for State roads and highways.
The meeting concluded by thanking the Senator for coming to meet with us. The group offered to come out in support of issues where our common interests overlap. That we welcome dialogue on issues where we disagree to work out areas of common ground. That today’s meeting was a highly productive exchange of ideas and what is exactly what is needed going forward.
By Sylvia McCullough
GT Dems Communications Team