“Michigan was 50 out of 50 in every economic category.”
By BETH ALTENA
“Most of you are business owners or are business minded,” said State Senator Peter MacGregor at the Rockford Chamber Annual Luncheon held at Rockford High School Monday, December 4. He spoke as a group with two other state officials, State Representatives Chris Afendoulis and Rob VerHeulen.
MacGregor spoke about the improvement of Michigan’s business economy compared to when he entered public office.
“All I know is what we went through ten years ago. Today unemployment is at 3.7 or 3.8, it was 14 percent. Michigan was 50 out of 50 in every economic category.” He said the state has been a home for innovation. Previously it was the automotive capital but is now enjoying an expansion in innovation.
“We went from 49th to twelfth in the nation for business climate. It is my job to get the state to number one. We are number one at creating new manufacturing jobs.” MacGregor said West Michigan, specifically the Grand Rapids region, is number one in the nation for job growth.
“It’s amazing, it gives me goosebumps to think ten years ago we were at 49. To do that you strive to make sure you are good job providers.” He said there is a red headed stepchild when people talk about Michigan and that is Detroit.
“Detroit, what’s with Detroit Detroit wouldn’t be jamming the way it is without West Michigan ethics and values.”
He said the state suffers from a gap of 100,000 jobs and we don’t have the people to fill them. He talked about the public education efforts to help students prepare for careers with career counciling programs. He said not every child needs a four year university education. Information Technology programs make good money. The legislature realizes this, the governor realizes this. He said other careers besides those from a university can allow students to be successful and become first time homeowners.
He warned of software formerly used by the Unemployment Insurance Agency which caused the inaccurate flagging of fraudulent claims. He said to beware of instances of massive identity theft with Unemployment Insurance Agency claims where people are collecting benefits under the name of someone who is, in fact, working and unaware of the claims. He said the Senate is passing bills to address this situation and others of identity theft.
Other areas of concern for the state include the opiod epidemic, auto no fault insurance and wages.
Next, State Representative Rob VerHeulen, elected in 2013, spoke. He said the state and house and governor have made huge headways but there is still plenty of work to do in state government. He said there are 1,800 units of government in the state who have 900 pension and retirement plans that are unfunded to the tune of $7.5 billion dollars. He said the last thing the government wants to do is mess with municipalities that are adequately funded, but for those that are not, the state would be on the hook for those unfunded pension obligations.
Chris Afendoulis brought up the topic of contaminated groundwater from PFOS chemicals. He said sites known to be contaminated include the tannery, House Street and other old dump sites here and there in the area.
“Resources and funding are properly committed,” to the issue. The Department of Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services and the Kent County Health Department all have meetings with stakeholders scheduled.
“All three of us have sent a letter to the governor. We are trying to be facilitators behind the scenes.” He called the topic an emerging issue that will be affecting the entire country. He said other sites that will be discovered to have these substances are industrial sites, airports and airbases.
“We all have PFOS in our bodies,” he stated. An exhaustive study in West Virginia found it hard to correlate the contaminate with any health issues.
“In 2015 this became an issue when it was decided it could be a health concern. I don’t want people to be alarmed.” He said the PFOS chemicals are very pervasive in our society. “If you eat a fast food hamburger, the wrapper has this substance in it.” He said they are trying to address this issue as best they can.
A member of the audience wanted the trio to address the topic of House Bill 4205, which prohibits the state from adopting environmental standards higher than those set by the federal government. She wanted to know why all three of them voted yes on this.
“I felt that the Environmental Protection Agency regulates this area and sets standards. We should not go beyond that, there are exceptions that can be made for special cirumstances,” said VerHeulen. “That was before this contamination issue.”
The person with the question followed up, “I am curious, in retrospect, you still support this, given we as a state have more freshwater than any other state, why concede to the federal rule?”
Pete MacGregor responded to that, “This helps the business environment. The bill tries to lessen state government from being intrusive into you business, you banking, etc. Sometimes rulemaking gets so far into your business, it makes it hard to do your business.”
He said there are provision that allow the state to go above and beyond, and this local contamination issue would be one. “This would be one example. Also, if there is an emergency, this bill would have no teeth.” He suggested the person with the question actually read the bill, and if they still have questions to come see any of the three of them.
Another question: “Governor Snyder is term limited out. What do you see for the future of the state?”
“We’ll have a new governor,” said Rob VerHeulen. Then he qualified the comment. “We are all Republicans, we anticipate a Republican house and governor. However, Michigan is not a one party state, I’m sure it will be hotly contested.” He added that, under either party, the state is doing well. We will want to continue to attracting people here.
“Now that Flint is in the background and that happened under Republican watch, will that have a political impact?” Chris Afendoulis responded, “I’m sure it will be brought up. It shows the dangers of emergency managers. There were failings up and down, I don’t know if it will have a big impact.”
The final question was about prevailing wage. An employer said he had to bid on a job and had to match the prevailing wage if he accepted the job. That prevailing wage was $33 an hour. He normally pays $12 to $18 an hour.
MacGregor took this one. “That’s taxpayer dollars, too. Dr. Shibler is going to talk about an expansion he is doing on the school and he’ll have to pay prevailing wage on that job as well if we don’t repeal that.” He said there is a vote on prevailing wage coming up in February or March and many lawmakers want to repeal that law.
Afendoulis also weighed in. “The Michigan Chamber of Commerce fought this. You are increasing your cost when you bond jobs out. Why should we ask for more from our taxpayer than we have to?