Gov. Snyder fields questions at town hall gathering

NEGAUNEE – Gov. Rick Snyder shared his four-part plan for Michigan’s future and fielded questions from area residents during a town hall meeting at the Negaunee Senior Center Tuesday, immediately following an Iron Ore Heritage Trail ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Snyder’s plan emphasized the need for more and better jobs; to help people find their career path and emphasize skilled trades; to rework an education system that he said is too much about money, to bolster early childhood education based on need and to work to reduce the cost of college while expanding dual enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school; and to run a good government that will give its people “great customer service,” by listening to input and ideas from Michigan’s 47,000 employees.

Snyder then fielded questions, and was asked by a resident of Powell Township what is the plan for funding road improvements.

“What we’re doing is, we are trying to get more resources for roads,” Snyder said. “We need a billion dollar a year annual investment in our roads, to bring them up to a standard that would be acceptable. Because no one likes our roads today.”

Snyder said without a billion dollar a year investment, the state will instead be forced to spend $25 billion in 10 years.

“It’s an investment we should make, because if we don’t make it, it’s only going to cost us more money. It’s much like saying, ‘Are we going to do an oil change or wait for an engine rebuild?'”

Snyder said until he and state legislators can reach a comprehensive solution, he’s going to devote a significant part of any additional budget dollars to roads.

Another question asked whether there will be any future changes to the DNR Trust Fund and its land acquisition. Snyder said it was a constitutional question, making it a ballot issue, but said since taking office he has worked with the DNR to develop a land-use strategy for the four million acres of state-owned land.

“We’re going to work hard on making sure we’re making the best use of land, in partnership with the private sector, the not-for-profit sector, it’s about all of us working together.”

Snyder also addressed a question about resources for seniors.

“We have a major project undergoing on the whole area of seniors, in total,” he said. “So after the first of the year I’m either going to do a special message on seniors, or a major summit on the topic of seniors.”

Snyder said he has devoted more dollar resources toward seniors and that he and state legislators are working hard to reduce the waiting list for people who want to stay in their homes versus going to a nursing home. Snyder said there was also a package of bills he worked with the legislators to pass addressing elder abuse.

“There are too many cases where seniors are taken advantage of,” he said. He told a story about how his own mother was victim of abuse when an in-home care worker forged her checks.

Another question addressed what Michigan can do about County Road 595 after the EPA killed plans for the road.

“That’s probably been one of the most frustrating situations …” Snyder said, “and I wish I had a better answer. The problem’s been the federal EPA. And we’ve been very proactive, we’ve been trying to be involved in a very constructive way of trying to work through it to get to a solution, because, frankly, I don’t understand – we should have gotten to a better answer than where we are today, and we’re willing to continue to work the issue …”

The final question to Snyder regarded Michigan’s Medicaid expansion and whether that would give the state a voice in how the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

“The big issue that we’re facing now … is Healthy Michigan,” Snyder said. “The Affordable Care Act, in my book the whole thing was a misfire, it didn’t hit what it was intended to do and it has created a lot of negative issues.”

Snyder said one of the few positives of the ACA helps address the working poor, people who work hard but don’t have health insurance, who are currently forced to go to the emergency room, or to put off care until it becomes a bigger problem.

“From a personal level – and I’m talking about 470,000 Michiganders – people we all know, it’s a terrible outcome for them personally to be in an uncompensated, unmanaged system where they rely on the ER,” Snyder said. “It also costs us all money. We pay for that, through higher insurance premiums.”

Snyder said Healthy Michigan is his idea of Medicaid expansion done right, placing more personal responsibility on people to manage their own health care plans.

“It’s a way to get them coverage where they’ll be able to get preventative care,” he said. “So it will literally save lives of people we know, and it will bring down costs to all of us.”

State senator Tom Casperson and state representative John Kivela were there to welcome the governor, and spoke briefly about their success working across political party lines at the state level and the need for this same kind of cohesion and cooperation to happen on a federal level.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.