(Crystal A. Proxmire, 4/14/2011)
14th District State Senator Vincent Gregory, who is from Southfield but represents Ferndale and other neighboring communities, visited the Ferndale Public Library on Thursday, April 14, 2011 to meet with constituents to discuss the State budget and other concerns. Tomiko Gumbleton, Ferndale City Councilperson and current aide to State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton, was also on hand to answer questions. A handful of interested residents turned out to meet with the Senator.
Gregory opened the meeting by giving an update on the State Budget process. “In the Senate they are moving fast on these budgets,” he said. Votes are taking place in the Appropriations Committees on all departments, and once approved those budgets will move to the Senate Floor for a vote. While the Senate is working on a budget, so is the State House of Representatives. Once those are approved, the House and Senate will come together to hash out a compromise between the two, before eventually being brought to Governor Rick Snyder for approval.
“Their goal is to have budget hammered out by June, and they are well on their way,” Gregory said. “All of the budgets will be out from appropriations by the end of April to be voted on the floor.”
The Senator expressed frustration at the way the Republicans, who are in the majority, are handling the discussions. “Giving us a budget before we can read it, just to get it approved, is not a good way to do business. They want to push it through, push it through, but not give us a chance to even read it,” he said.
“One problem in the process is that we don’t get the budget ahead of time. A committee meeting today was at 2:30. I got there at 2:25 and they handed it to me. They went over some of the highlights and voted on it. That quick,” he said, noting that he passed on the vote because he didn’t agree with voting on something without adequate time for reading and discussing it.
Gregory sits on four of the committees: Community Health, Human Services, State Police and Veterans’ Affairs.
Although frustrated by the process, he believes the people’s voices can be heard. “This is the first step in the budget process, and possibly the money can be put back in,” Gregory said. “So those folks that have an interest in some of these different programs that have been calling my office and others, keep speaking up because you can make a difference.”
Ann Langford of the Area Agency on Agency was among the audience members. “We’re glad to hear that it’s not too late,” she said. “We sent out e mails to other senators to ask them to re-fund the Seniors Nutritional Program. …We are asking seniors to contribute more – with taxes on pensions and other taxes. Because seniors are bearing so much of the new burden we’d like to see at least some of that money go to services for them.”
According to Gregory, Gov. Snyder has re-thought the tax on the pension, and is now proposing a three-part program. If you’re single and you make less than 20,000, or if you’re married and you make over 40,000 you won’t have to pay the tax on the pension. Also seniors age 67 and over would not be taxed. The proposal is making seniors happy, but it now leaves another gap in the budget. “Where will that money come from? That’s what we need to figure out,” Gregory said. “None of this is set, and it could still change.”
The Senator discussed other points about the budget. He said that the recommendation for the Community Health Budget was essentially nothing, with a $100 placeholder. And today, Gumbleton added, community colleges took a big cut from School Aid.
“We’ve received 500 e mails a day on school aid,” Gumbleton said. “There’s a big fight out there because there is money in the school aid fund. Because the general fund is in debt they are trying to take it from school aid, and they are making it a union issue. But there is no reason to take it.” She recommended checking out www.fightschoolcuts.com to learn more about the issue. She also encouraged voters to get involved.
“As far as votes, the numbers are not with us. Tell your family, friends, and your e mail list in those areas who are maybe Republican, and have them talk to their legislatures. Go to their coffee hours. Don’t feel that it’s hopeless. You can still put pressure on and let them know what you want.” Gumbleton has been assisting Representative Lipton with collecting petition signatures, organizing voters, collecting testimonies, and sending speakers to Lansing to stand up for education funding.
Gregory said “ When it comes down to it, the Governors plan to balance the budget is hinged on a lot of different things. But part of it is they want to give businesses a $1.8 billion cut to businesses. This is on top of the $1.8 billion deficit to begin with.”
Gumbleton added, “I’d also invite you to look at what they’re not touching. They’re looking for an easy cut, and in my opinion going after unions. People deserve benefits and good paying jobs. There is nothing wrong with that. Look at the corrections budget; look at other items in the general fund they won’t touch.”
An audience member asked Gregory to talk about Emergency Financial Managers. The Senator responded that before Snyder took office there were already 62 people trained and approved to be EFMs, and that he knows of at least ten more who Snyder has added.
Gregory said that one area where EFMs may be useful is in school districts that are failing. But that even with the appointment of an EFM there will be issues to figure out.
“One of my views there’s a lot of school districts that are teetering right now,” Gregory said. “This 470 [referring to the $470 per pupil cut that is currently being considered by the State] will put them into deficit spending. There has always been a belief that these districts should merge and they aren’t going to do it on their own. They can force them, but who is going to pay the current deficits? …A school district taking over isn’t going to want to take on that debt.”
“Some of these districts will go under,” he said. “What about the kids that are in the midst of this? They just want to go to school and get an education and they’re just being used as pawns in this.”
Gregory and Gumbleton both encouraged voters to use their representatives as a resource, especially when trying to figure out the budget. “People need to understand it’s complicated sometimes to look at it, but we are here to help you. Call our office or Senator Gregory’s office and we’ll go over it with you,” Gumbleton said.
Senator Vincent Gregory’s website is http://www.senate.mi.gov/dem/gregory.
State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton’s website is http://www.027.housedems.com.
Lipton and Gregory are expected to be at the Ferndale Public Library on May 2, 2011 at 6pm for another coffee hour.