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PANELISTS -- State Senator Mike Green (R), State Reps Charles Brunner (D), and James Stamas (R)

BIPARTISANSHIP ALIVE: Bay Area Chamber Brings Out Cooperative Spirit

Legislators United in Efforts to Deal With Tight Budget, Fix Roads

April 28, 2013       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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If there is bipartisanship in Lansing, why not in Washington too?

There is no way mounting problems like a proposed Medicaid expansion and $1.5 billion for crumbling roads, and a host of other issues, can be solved otherwise.

State Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville, made the pertinent point during lively discussion at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce's annual State Legislative Luncheon at the Bay Valley Hotel and Conference Center.

Other panelists were state representatives Charles Brunner and James Stamas, Democrat and Republican respectively.

Laurie Bush, Realtor and Chair-Elect of the chamber board, opened the meeting that also featured construction executive Herb Spence, editor Rob Clark of The Bay City Times and the Saginaw News, and Mike Seward, chamber president and CEO.

Mr. Spence set the tone by introducing the trio as "not afraid to work across county lines and party lines."

Mr. Seward summed up the key issues addressed by the trio of legislators, with help from questions from the audience moderated by Mr. Clark.

Mr. Seward primed chamber members to join in a Lansing trip May 14-15 to buttonhole legislators and department heads and rub elbows in a reception, breakfast and luncheon.

"This is an investment of your time that will pay dividends for yourselves and your community," said Mr. Seward, urging "come with us to Lansing and talk about the issues with state leaders."

Keith Markstrom, retired hospital executive who is heading efforts to improve conditions for veterans, ignited a concern about the state's 780,000 vets.

"Only 11 percent are receiving the benefits they are entitled to -- we need to do a better job getting veterans services," he said.

Michigan is last among states and territories in that regard, noted Rep. Stamas, from Midland.

Supt. John Mertz of the Essexville-Hampton Schools questioned the status of a move for a common core curriculum in Michigan. Rep. Brunner, a retired vocational teacher, said he supports Gov. Rick Snyder's thrust to match the curriculum more closely to occupational areas.

Sen. Green lamented that every change of administration in Lansing brings a new set of laws on education, and Rep. Stamas said change is needed in the core areas "because not every child will go to college."

Agriculture was in the focus of the group, with Sen. Green forecasting an economic development surge as five businesses dealing with commodities are expected to spring up in the Thumb.

Financing an expansion of Medicaid to all those state residents below 133 percent of the poverty level is one of the holes that must be filled in the budget, although Sen. Green commented "how can you vote against poverty?" but noted "there is not a lot of support to pass it."

Auto insurance reform is "another big ticket issue" for which funding is needed, the legislators agreed.

Thinking "out of the box" will be required to find the funds for road construction, said Sen. Green, noting proposals include combining a 19 cent per gallon gas tax and the six percent sales tax into a 12 cent wholesale tax. Sales taxes don't currently contribute to road funding, he said.

The federal government, especially the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), came under fire from both citizens and legislators. One farmer noted problems getting approval just to clean out a ditch. Sen. Green predicted "EPA problems will get worse before they get better" and said a bill is in the works to "alleviate the demands put on us."

While hunting and fishing fees have been combined from 175 different fee areas to 32, there is not enough money to pay salaries of conservation officers, the discussion revealed. Some fees like recreation vehicle permits may have to be raised, said the senator.

State Rep James Stamas and Mike Seward, chamber president and CEO share a moment.

JOB WELL DONE -- Panelists congratulate one another after the luncheon. ©

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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