with poll: Local leaders rally in Ann Arbor, call governor's budget an attack on Michigan families
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Calling Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget an attack on Michigan's working class families, several citizens and community leaders spoke out today in Ann Arbor.
"If we don't stand together as one and work together against this budget that is being proposed, the whole state is going to be in a devastated state," Lois Richardson, Ypsilanti's mayor pro-tem, said during a press conference at the Ann Arbor Community Center.
"We've got to raise our voices," she said.
Today's event was one of several similar demonstrations organized by Progress Michigan in communities throughout the state, including some in Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, Monroe, Mount Clemens, Marshall and Birmingham.
The coalition behind today's demonstration is calling on alternative reforms to fix what it agrees is a broken state government. Representing the interests of families, seniors, education, workers and other groups, the coalition plans to rally in Lansing on Wednesday.
"We are in a structural deficit, and until this state addresses revenue — as opposed to just expenditures — we will continue on our downward spiral," said Brit Satchwell, president of the 1,200-member Ann Arbor Education Association.
The state budget cuts Snyder has proposed — partly to close a $1.4 billion deficit and partly to finance $1.8 billion in tax breaks for businesses — would negatively impact schools, universities, cities, townships, counties, senior citizens and low-income wage earners, among other groups. It also promises deep cuts to the state's film incentives.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Snyder explained the rationale behind his proposed cuts during a speech last week in Washtenaw County. He said there's no doubt going to be some short-term pain, but the result is a state budget that is fiscally sound, and that's going to be attractive to businesses.
"Personally, these calls are difficult calls because you are impacting people's lives, and you are causing issues with people," he said. "But one of the things I'm proud to say is we stopped thinking short-term and we stopped thinking just about today."
Satchwell spoke today about the impact of Snyder's proposed budget on K-12 schools.
"It proposes to cut K-12 education by at least $470 per student," he said. "In terms of what districts have faced in the last five or six years, that's like an asteroid. Here in Ann Arbor, we've cut $5 million or $6 million on average for the last six years straight."
Entering this school year, Satchwell said, Ann Arbor Public Schools had a projected deficit for next year of $7 million. As soon as Snyder released his budget, that projected deficit went up to $15 million. And if the district's special education millage renewal doesn't pass in May, the district's projected deficit climbs to $22 million, Satchwell said.
Satchwell said last year alone his union members gave up $3 million to avoid layoffs. Referencing other concessions, he said each teacher on average has given back more than $4,400 to help balance the district's budget in recent years.
When Snyder talks about "shared sacrifice," he's just blowing smoke, Satchwell said.
"We're erasing lines right now," he said. "It's not about public versus private. It's not about union and nonunion. It's about the middle class and democracy at this point."
Nancy Heine, a county employee at Washtenaw County Community Support and Treatment Services and president of AFSCME Local 3052, said unions have played a vital role in protecting workers' rights and improving quality of life.
They also have given back, she said, noting that in Washtenaw County alone, union employees have saved county government more than $5 million over the past two years.
"We have cut our own pay, we have cut our benefits, we have increased contributions to health care," she said. "And now because the legislators are feeling the heat, public employees are being used as scapegoats and blamed for the state's financial mess."
Heine shared concerns that the pending emergency manager legislation would allow emergency managers appointed by the state to void union contracts, make changes to pension plans and "hijack local municipal and county governments."
Bonnie Halloran, a professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and president of the Lecturers' Employee Organization, spoke out against Snyder's proposed 15 percent cut to higher education, saying it impacts families and children.
"This is going to impact families in this state, families who are no longer going to be able to afford to pay for their children's education at our public universities," she said. "This is appalling for the state of Michigan, this disinvestment in education."
Jaime Nelson, a U-M graduate who now works for U-M's Prison Creative Arts Project, also touched on the increasing cost of higher education.
"I know how hard I struggled to pay for college, and I'm still paying for college and probably will be the rest of my life," she said. "But I'm really concerned about the students that are going through now because I know how hard it was to pay, and still pay, for school five years ago."
Snyder's budget proposes a complete elimination of nearly $300 million in statutory revenue sharing payments for cities, villages and townships in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Taking the place of those payments would be a lesser $200 million pot of money available to communities that consolidate and collaborate on services.
"To see all of our tax dollars go to the state, and the state do what they want to with them and not give them back to us, it really is not right and something must be done," Richardson said, adding Ypsilanti already has enough budget problems. "This year, our budget is $11 million and with $1.2 million of that is state shared revenue."
Richardson also spoke out against Snyder's call to eliminate tax credits that help finance redevelopment of old and blighted properties in urban areas.
Multiple speakers shared concerns about Snyder's approach to finance business tax breaks by increasing taxes for many individuals.
"Giving the businesses tax breaks, that's not necessarily what brings businesses to town. It's having a good strong educational system," Richardson said. "People look for good places where their children can get a good education."
For those who still believe in trickle-down economics, it's been two decades now and "it never did trickle down and it never will," added Satchwell, a sixth-grade math teacher.
"Every dollar that's put into early ed, K through 2, has a return on investment of $7 for every $1 invested," he said. "But no, they're going to take it from the poor, they're going to take it from the elderly, they're going to take it from public education, they're going to take it from your rights to bargain, they're going to take it from your rights to a democracy. It's happening right now."
Satchwell said another local rally will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Forsythe Middle School, 1655 Newport Road. Calling it "a little bit of Madison right here at home," he said it will be attended by city officials, union representatives, parents, teachers and others.