‘U.P.-Team’ lawmakers talk issues

ESCANABA – You’ve heard of the A-Team but what about the U.P.-Team?

The U.P.-Team is a bipartisan group of four state legislators who are working together for the Upper Peninsula’s benefit. The team held a town hall meeting at Escanaba City Hall on Thursday, one of six such meetings held in the region during the past two weeks.

“This is an opportunity for you to share with the U.P. Team what issues are important to you and need addressing,” explained House Representative Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) as he introduced himself to those in attendance.

Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) – who joked he was late because he had to find a telephone booth – said the legislative team is about finding common themes to work together on and working for the U.P.

House Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette) added, “It’s people that get involved that make a difference.”

The fourth member of the team – House Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) – was unable to attend the local meeting.

The four legislators previously held town hall meetings in Calumet, Marquette, Ironwood, Newberry and Iron Mountain.

During Thursday’s session in Escanaba, several issues relating to state government were addressed. Questions began with Proposal 1 which is on the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

McBroom explained the legislation involves repealing the personal property tax and establishing a new revenue source.

Municipalities currently collect taxes on business’s personal property, like equipment, to pay for local services such as police, fire, ambulance and schools.

The legislation, if approved, would get rid of the personal property tax and replace it with an annual fee taxed on bigger businesses which pay over $80,000 in personal property tax, explained McBroom.

Other revenue sources would include an increased portion of the state use tax being earmarked for local schools. Manufacturing taxes and telephone equipment taxes would also play a role in paying for essential services.

McBroom commented the current personal property tax system discourages businesses from investing in new equipment that would increase their taxes.

“It’s really a good idea to get rid of it,” he said. “We’d like to see businesses invest in new capital.”

The three legislators addressed the state’s recent approval to help bail out the bankrupt city of Detroit’s $19 billion debt. The law includes funding for the pensions of city employees, avoiding anticipated costly lawsuits that would be passed on to all taxpayers.

Kivela explained the state will give Detroit $350 million over the next 20 years. Private funding sources were asked to match this and came up with $366 million a year, he said.

An authority will invest and distribute these funds during the next two decades with an oversight committee approving expenditures being made by the city, he added.

“We wanted the oversight to be so strict so it wouldn’t be attractive to others,” Kivela said.

He also noted Detroit’s bankruptcy was costing the state billions of dollars because it was tarnishing the reputation of the state.

Casperson commented that, in his opinion, the pension settlement was not scaled down enough in the recent legislative decision.

McBroom noted Detroit’s nine council members had 66 staff employees, which was scaled down.

“The state is sick and tired of this mess for decades,” McBroom added.

Another topic addressed by the state legislators was President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act.

Casperson said some things in “Obamacare” are “distasteful.” He said Michigan is better off controlling the funding that the state otherwise gives to the federal government to regulate its programs.

“I don’t appreciate what’s happening with the Affordable Care Act and what’s happening in this country,” Casperson commented, adding, “Costs are now going through the roof.”

Other topics discussed during Thursday’s meeting included road funding, environmental resource lawsuits, a potential sales tax increase, various educational concerns, the future of land line phone service, prevention of tobacco use, and open vs concealed firearms issues.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s session, the three legislators thanked those attending.

Casperson said the legislators would like to do more including encouraging more people to participate in town hall meetings.

Kivela noted that, despite the legislators’ party affiliations, they care about serving the U.P. and what’s best for everyone. He cited the recent establishment of the Next Michigan economic development zone in the Central U.P.

McBroom commented, “Some of us are term limited or booted out… but we hope we’re setting a great standard for legislators in the U.P.”

All four legislators are up for re-election this year.

McBroom cited the recent winter freeze funding and educational funding for the region approved by legislators, saying U.P. legislators have the Governor saying, “Those four Yoopers are not as crazy as I thought they were.”

Go U.P. Team Go… eh!

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net