Legislators react to Snyder’s message

ESCANABA – Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address Thursday laid out what he believed were Michigan’s greatest accomplishments in 2013 and his vision for the state in 2014. For two state legislators who represent the local area, these accomplishments and goals are close to home.

Infrastructure and road funding was an important topic for U.P. legislators.

“I know where he’s at with that,” said Rep. Ed McBroom. “I’ve spoken to him many times on it and I know he’s committed to finding a long term solution to our infrastructure problem.”

Sen. Tom Casperson received a special thanks during the speech for his work on the Senate Transportation Committee where he serves as chair.

“I think it was very nice of him to mention us, but I think the point was we didn’t get there,” said Casperson.

“One thing I’ve noticed with him, whether people agree with his policies, is he’s always looking long term, 10 or 20 years ahead. Transportation is one of those things,” he added.

The governor gave a special nod to the Upper Peninsula by featuring the U.P. SmartZones in his address. The program brings universities together with local governments and entrepreneurs to advance economic growth.

The first U.P. SmartZone was the MTEC SmartZone, however the program is in the process of being adapted for use by Northern Michigan University to create a SmartZone in the Marquette area. Both NMU and the City of Marquette are working with Michigan Technological University and Houghton/Hancock to implement the program.

“He was trying to say more than just ‘look at the SmartZone’ but to highlight the collaboration,” said Casperson, who noted he was proud that the program was highlighted by the governor.

Snyder, who has a long history of promoting educational reforms, took time in his address to outline a few more ideas for the state’s education system. Included were encouraging a voluntary program for schools to begin year-round classes, creating a uniform definition of “truancy,” and making the state a leader in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – education.

When asked if he thought year-round classroom programs would be implemented in the Upper Peninsula, Casperson was doubtful.

“I don’t. I think it’s going to be more of a downstate thing,” he said, adding many schools downstate are suffering from low performance.

“I had hoped that the governor would have mentioned my career technical (bills) that we’ve been working on, but last year he mentioned it specifically. This year he just briefly touched on it,” said McBroom, referencing a packet of bills that would allow high schools to have more flexibility in the career technical classes they offer sponsored by McBroom and Rep. Joel Johnson of Clare.

Casperson agreed the Snyder did not address the issue of vocational and career technical programs.

“Vocational ed is kind of lagging behind, but I think we are setting people up to believe we need to have every kid set up for college,” said Casperson, noting many jobs requiring technical training are high paying, available, and may be more desirable for students.

The governor also took time to comment on education funding.

“I was glad that the governor took the time to set some of the record straight that money hasn’t been taken from schools and put into the pockets of CEOs,” said McBroom.

During the address, Snyder noted much of the money given to schools that did not go directly to students was used to fund the teacher retirement fund. While McBroom hoped to see an increase in the per pupil allowance, he noted paying debts was also important for education in the state.

Both Casperson and McBroom supported the governor’s call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require Congress to balance a budget every year.

“I like the idea and you’ll notice he didn’t do that when he first took office because I think we had our own budget issues,” said Casperson, adding states like Michigan that had made strides towards a balanced budget were leading the call.

“It can be done and now it’s time for Washington to do it,” he said.

McBroom noted he believed any amendment would need to have special provisions for times of war or other special circumstances where a balanced budget might not be possible, but that he was supportive of the amendment.

“I was very pleased to have the governor throw his support behind that,” he said.