From My Desk in Lansing
The first two weeks of June were a whirlwind of activity even when you consider the hectic schedule getting Michigan out of intensive care for the past two years. It appears that the economy has stabilized but we are a long way from recovery. No longer are we seeing month after month of job reports showing higher and higher unemployment. In fact, unemployment has come down from 14.5% to 8.5% in the last 2 years.
We now officially have improved our bond rating in Michigan to AAA according to Moody's, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, which is good news for all of us as the cost of government will go down. We have a structurally balanced budget and a lifeline of money for schools and local essential services are now more dependable.
That being said, there are still too many residents that are unemployed ... or underemployed and for them we are still fighting to deliver life support. For those, we need to work with our community colleges to bring their skill levels to fill the higher paying jobs that are still going unfilled.
As your representative in Lansing, I am very proud to report that our office has delivered substantial results for better accountability and transparency in your government. In the last 3 months Governor Snyder signed seven of my bills into public acts! These include:
- Medical Amnesty for minors (PA 125 of 2012)
- Prisoner sales tax exemption repeal (PA 126 of 2012)
- Three Election Reform Bills
- Guidelines on temporary signs at polling locations (PA 156 of 2012)
- Banning of elected officials names on absentee ballot materials (PA 280 of 2012)
- Education standards for election specialists (PA 271 of 2012)
- Harrison Township Library funding (PA 191 of 2012)
- Government Accountability Audit Bill (PA 230 of 2012)
Forlini/Brandenburg Bill Puts Harrison Township Library in a Position to Receive Funds
On June 20, Gov. Snyder signed House Bill 5573 into law now known as Public Act 191 of 2012.
PA 191 of 2012 amends the Charter Township Act to allow Harrison Township the opportunity to access its penal fines, which have been in escrow since the Macomb County Library ceased its operations in 2008. When the Macomb County Library closed its doors, the residents of Harrison Township were without the services of a free public library. This changed when the Harrison Township Public Library was created in 2009.
However, the library was not able to receive the monies syphoned off to it due to a technical issue in the Charter Township Act. PA 191 of 2012 fixes the issue at the state level for Harrison Township.
On June 25, the Harrison Township Board approved a resolution adopting the Harrison Township Public Library and requesting that the Library of Michigan “establish” them, which will authorize the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office to release the penal fines that are in escrow ($71,000) and provide annual funding of about $22,000.
It is important to note that this money is not coming as an additional appropriation. Penal fines are constitutionally earmarked with 30 percent of that money distributed to public libraries. The other 70 percent is dispersed to local municipalities. Also, no other public library or local municipality will be receiving less money as a result of this. All that we are doing is giving the community access to the money that is currently owed them.
Protecting Mothers and Children
On June 13, House Bill 5711 was passed by a 70-39 bipartisan vote in the House. The bill is part of a pro-life package that includes the following legislation (House Bills 5712 and 5713 have not yet been voted on in the House). Although there was substantial rhetoric in the media regarding these bills don’t let this misdirected conversation change what is really happening with these bills. It is to protect the life of the mother as well as the unborn child.
HB 5711 adds language to Michigan's abortion laws about screenings for coerced abortions and requires liability insurance for doctors who perform abortions and fall under certain criteria. The bill also regulates abortion clinics as "freestanding surgical outpatient facilities" and set guidelines for the disposal of fetal remains.
HB 5712 sets related sentencing guidelines for coercing a pregnant woman to have an abortion against her will and for an abortion "in violation of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" in HB 5713.
HB 5713, part of which establishes the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," makes it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks unless "in the reasonable clinical judgment of a physician the abortion is necessary to avert the pregnant individual's death."
This legislation will protect women, not hurt them. It is important that we take the necessary steps to prevent women from being coerced into having an abortion. The disturbing thing is that many women face coercion from their boyfriends and even are threatened with physical violence. This legislation protects women from the ultimate form of domestic violence, forcing a woman to abort her child against her will.
Also, the practice of inhumane disposal of fetal remains has been reported from many clinics throughout the state. Currently, aborted baby bodies and body parts fall under the definition of "pathological waste" in the Michigan Public Health Code. This allows aborted baby bodies to be treated with formaldehyde and thrown in the trash or flushed into the sewer system. HB 5711 is a technical change needed to prevent fetal remains from being disposed in this matter.
At 20 weeks’ development, an unborn child has the same neural capacity to experience pain as anyone else does. Surgeons who perform life-saving surgery on unborn children routinely use fetal anesthesia to prevent pain and its consequent thrashing reaction. Except for dire circumstance threatening the mother's life, any pregnancy situation at this stage can be managed to a positive, life-affirming outcome for mother and child.
HB 5711 also includes a section that takes up the issue that I introduced in HB 4688 regarding webcam abortions. A physician shall not diagnose and prescribe an abortion for a patient who is or presumed to be pregnant without first personally performing a physical examination of the patient. In other words, this means that a physician cannot utilize an internet web camera to diagnose and prescribe the abortion. Women in other states have died because they did not get proper oversight. This is just another common-sense piece of legislation that has received bipartisan support.
HB 5711 will now go to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its consideration.
Supreme Court Decision
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision on the constitutionality of the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by upholding the legislation with five justices voting in favor and four opposed.
The justices found the legislation to be constitutional based on Congress’ broad powers of taxation. This was a major blow for those, who like me, support limited government. The belief amongst opponents of the law was that the individual mandate violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The decision referred to the “penalty” portion of the law as a tax. As a result, the law was upheld on taxing powers.
As part of the new federal law, the Michigan Legislature will now have to look at its options on moving forward. The federal law is telling the states to pass its own statewide health care exchange by Jan. 1, 2014, and to demonstrate to them that progress has been made to that end by Jan. 1, 2013. Failure to do so will result in the federal government implementing a statewide exchange for Michigan.
Forlini Government Accountability Bill Now Law
On June 28, Governor Snyder signed into law my House Bill 5158 (now known as Public Act 230 of 2012), which allows the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the Office of the Auditor General to audit vendors to ensure compliance with state contracts.
I was truly shocked when I discovered that an audit of Michigan Works! agencies was incomplete and the organization was not required to account for every penny of tax money it spent. This closes the loophole that allowed agencies to ignore audit requests from the state.
Now we will be able to guarantee that revenue coming from the hard-working taxpayers of Michigan will be used properly. This also makes agencies such as Michigan Works! more transparent in their use of our tax dollars.
During an Auditor General's review of Michigan Works! agencies, several instances of misuse of tax money were found, including:
- $15,416 for college expenses incurred by staff
- $9,873 for meals at a weekend retreat ($8,013 above authorized rates)
- $8,265 for lodging at a weekend retreat ($3,760 above authorized rates)
- Membership dues at the Country Club of Lansing
- Monthly massages for administrative staff
- Payments to employees for unused sick days, contrary to state employee policy
This legislation has received overwhelming bipartisan support with a 110-0 vote in the House and a 37-0 vote out of the Senate.
Fiscal Year 2013 Budget
The House passed the FY 13 budget in time for Gov. Snyder’s June 1st deadline.
Last year, we made hard choices in order to stabilize the budget and help Michigan recover from failing policies of the past. As a result, FY 2012 brought in a surplus, unemployment has dropped in the state by more than 2 percent and economists’ note that Michigan’s future looks bright.
This year’s budget maximizes the return on the taxpayers’ investment for the long term. We trimmed almost $200 million in unnecessary spending, in addition to the more than $1 billion in reductions last year. This government is now more efficient. We were fiscally responsible when finances were down and remain so now that they are up.
We are adding to the rainy day fund for the second year in a row after a decade of withdrawals. Also, we eliminated billions in long-term debt, increased school funding and approved a tax cut for every taxpayer in Michigan.
One-time fixes got us into the mess we were in when I took office in January 2011 and the people of Michigan can no longer afford the old status quo. Our goal is to take on the challenge of our billions in outstanding debt while we can afford to do so. Michigan residents deserve no less.
Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients
On June 7, House Bill 5223 establishing the method for testing welfare applicants for substance abuse and prevent anyone with a positive test from receiving cash benefits for at least six months passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 71-37.
This common-sense legislation is to assist those who are in need of cash benefits find their way to long-term stability. People will often times be required to take a drug test to get a job, so anyone receiving state money should be held accountable to the taxpayers. Michigan’s economic situation forces us to ask state programs to do more with less. With this bill, we can keep the assistance program funded and available to those who need it most.
Jobs are our first priority and these changes to the program will eliminate any incentive to abuse the system. It will also encourage Michigan residents to get back to work. Cash assistance is meant to help families in need make ends meet until they find work. Taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being used on drugs.
The results of the test are confidential and cannot be used for anything beyond cash assistance. Medicaid, food assistance and housing assistance will not be affected. Also, a person who tests positive can either be ineligible for assistance for six months or they may enroll in a substance abuse treatment program, which would allow them to try the test again in just 90 days.
Income Tax Cut
On June 14, the House passed House Bills 5699, 5700 and 5729 to cut the state income tax for Michigan taxpayers.
HB 5699 amended the Income Tax Act to reduce the individual income tax rate from 4.35 percent to 4.25 percent on Oct. 1, 2012, rather than Jan. 1, 2013, when the rate is currently scheduled to decrease.
HB 5700 amends the act to allow a taxpayer to claim a personal exemption in the amount provided under current law or in the following amount, whichever was greater, for each personal or dependency exemption allowable on the taxpayer's Federal income tax return:
o $3,950 beginning on and after Oct. 1, 2012, and before Jan. 1, 2014.
o $4,000 beginning on and after Jan. 1, 2014.
Currently, the amount of the personal exemption is $3,700. For each tax year beginning on and after Jan. 1, 2013, the exemption must be adjusted for inflation, and will be phased out for single taxpayers with household resources between $75,000 and $100,000, and for married couples filing joint returns with household resources between $150,000 and $200,000. The exemption will not be allowed for a single taxpayer or joint filers whose total household resources exceed $100,000 or $200,000, respectively.
HB 5729 would amend the Income Tax Act so that, instead, the rate would drop to 4.2 percent as of Jan. 1, 2013, and then continue to decline as follows:
- 4.15 percent as of Jan. 1, 2014
- 4.10 percent as of Jan. 1, 2015
- 4.00 percent as of Jan. 1, 2016
- 3.95 percent as of Jan. 1, 2017
- 3.90 percent as of Jan. 1, 2018
Our long-term plan is a government that produces results. Because we are committed to fiscal responsibility, we are able to make these changes and give back to Michigan taxpayers. Michigan residents shouldn’t have to live with high taxes.
On June 14, the House passed an amended version of Senate Bill 1040 by a 57-47 vote.
SB 1040 addresses long term unfunded liability of the public school employee health care and pension system. This bill is just another example of a common sense reform made now that will save teachers’ pensions and health care for tomorrow.
The problem facing Michigan schools is that Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) debts total more than $45 billion above what school districts have in the bank to pay. Pension liabilities outpace assets by more than $17 billion. It would take an additional $710 per pupil to fund the pension deficit each year, which takes money out of the classrooms. Unfunded healthcare liabilities in our public schools total more than $27 billion. That is a debt that must eventually be paid off by Michigan’s hard-working taxpayers.
As I mentioned in last month’s e-news, I share concerns about wanting the best education for our children. Our goal must be to attract the best and the brightest to be the next generation’s teachers. However, with out-of-control unfunded liabilities, which take money out of the classroom, we find ourselves in a perilous situation. We cannot make the same mistakes as in the past, but rather create an environment of financial stability for those teachers that retire. It is also my hope that by fixing this now it will help teachers receive competitive salaries in the long run.
I am mindful to assure teachers keep what they already earned, but fight for a system that is sustainable for future retirees. That being said, we face substantial fiscal concerns that, if left unaddressed, would be detrimental for our children and grandchildren as well as future retirees. Michigan taxpayers deserve a financial plan that is steadfast and accountable to its recipients.
SB 1040 will now go back to the Senate for approval.
The New International Trade Crossing
On June 15, Gov. Snyder and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced plans to build the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).
Under the agreement, Michigan will not be obligated to pay any costs of the NITC and no state appropriation will be required. The design, construction and maintenance will be done by a private entity through a 40-50 year public-private partnership agreement. The project is expected to create around 10,000 new jobs.
There is no timetable yet but construction is expected to begin in the next few years.