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Posted on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Rep. Rick Olson gets earful on state budget issues on door-to-door outing in Washtenaw County

By Ryan J. Stanton


State Rep. Rick Olson, right, talks with Pittsfield Township resident Philip Kearney, a retired faculty member from the University of Michigan's School of Education, about proposed cuts to education funding during a door-to-door outing Monday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Before going door-to-door on Monday afternoon in Pittsfield Township, state Rep. Rick Olson predicted he might not get a warm reception from every resident.

With all that's happening in Lansing, including efforts to slash education funding and start taxing the pensions of seniors, the Republican lawmaker from Washtenaw County's York Township expected to hear concerns from the mostly 60-and-older community off Lohr Road.

And he was right.

Philip Kearney, a retired faculty member from the University of Michigan's School of Education and author of a primer on Michigan school finances, had choice words for Olson, who is generally supportive of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's state budget proposal.

"He's screwing the schools," Kearney said of Snyder. "Old guys like me, too, on retirement. I'm willing to pay my taxes, but I think the damn business tax ought to be a little higher. All you Republicans think all that stuff trickles down. I don't believe that."

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.


Olson shows resident Rudolf Hanel how he can contact his office if he has any questions or concerns. He didn't have any on Monday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Snyder has defended his proposals by saying short-term pain is needed to reposition Michigan's economy for the future. He believes lowering business taxes, financed by measures like eliminating tax credits for the working poor, will create jobs.

"He's certainly making an attempt to try to reset the state, but you gore a lot of oxen in the process," Olson told Kearney. "There's no guarantee that it'll work. That's for sure."

Olson's door-to-door outing was an attempt by the freshman lawmaker to connect with constituents and gain feedback as the Legislature takes up Snyder's budget.

Most residents who answered their doors smiled and told Olson thanks for stopping by, but they didn't have much else to say. But those who did have concerns were frank in their remarks to Olson.

Diane Price, a former administrator from Princeton University who came to Ann Arbor for retirement, decried Snyder's proposed cuts to education. That includes a 15-percent reduction in funding for state universities and cuts to K-12 education that work out to about $700 per student when factoring in increased mandatory pension contributions.

"If you don't have education, a way of bettering yourself, it costs taxpayers more money than the other way around," Price said, suggesting it'll just lead to higher crime rates and increased costs on the public safety and justice side of government budgets.

Price said she thinks a better solution would be implementation of a graduated income tax system, which would require a state constitutional amendment. She added she's in favor of taxing pensions, even though she's one of those who would be taxed.

"What I'm not for is decreasing the taxes for businesses, decreasing the state tax rate," she said. "I would go higher and I would have it graduated, so that those of us who have money pay for education. I don't see what Rick Snyder is doing with his emphasis on education and keeping the smart people in Michigan, but then cutting the money that would go toward that."

Price said things could be worse: She could still be living in New Jersey. "There they have a governor that's worse than Rick Snyder," she said.

Olson told residents like Price and Kearney he expects to stay on the forefront of the education discussion in Lansing in the coming weeks.

"Education is something that's really important to me because my dad died when I was 2 months old and my mom raised six of us kids on welfare, and her mantra was 'get an education and work hard,'" Olson said. "And all six of us kids got a college degree, all of us have worked hard and done well, and that was our way out of poverty. So it's critical for many people."

Despite being a freshman in the state House, Olson has landed key assignments in committees dealing with tax policy, transportation, banking and administrative rules.

"Obviously we've got a lot of issues we're working on and the No. 1 goal is to get this economy going again," he said. "And in the midst of that, we've got to balance a budget this year, so that's raised a lot of concern as well, because none of our choices are good."

Olson said he's "generally in line with" Snyder's overall budget proposal, but there are a few parts that may requiring some tweaking.

"I guess one of the things I sense is the pension tax may be reworded," he said. "There's an informal income threshold, but there's no firm income threshold. That's something we're going to be looking at. It all boils down to money in the end."

Olson said he's talked with Snyder about his pension tax proposal and it's not the governor's intention to tax the elderly poor.

"In talking with him, it's his belief in the proposal that most people would have to have something over $41,000 of income before they would be taxed," he said.

Olson said education is an issue he's zeroing in on. He has about seven years experience as a school business manager split between Adrian and Harper Woods, and his wife Linda last year became superintendent of Richmond Community Schools in Macomb County.

Olson said he's been in talks with the governor's administration and House Speaker Jase Bolger, and he believes Snyder's K-12 proposal may need some tweaking. He said an across-the-board cut for all school districts could spell disaster for some communities.

"I'm gathering case studies on some districts that have already done major cuts and who are at minimum foundation grants, and I'm asking them to assume even more cuts or make various assumptions and projections and to look at where would their budget be next year," he said.

Olson said he hasn't gotten those case studies back yet, but he's assuming some of them are going to come back with grim results. And if that's the case, he said, that's probably an indication that Snyder's budget proposal has gone too far.

"I suspect there's going to be some districts under water, and if that's the case, that just doesn't work," Olson said. "We can't intentionally put them under water."

In response to concerns Kearney raised about the elimination of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, Olson said he wasn't sure whether that proposal was going to survive.

Kearney urged Olson not to go along with Snyder on cuts to schools, saying if Michigan doesn't invest in educating its youth, the state is going to be worse in the long run.

"The schools have been cutting the hell out of everything for a long time, as you well know," Kearney said. "I mean, they're probably down at the bottom, they're down to the bone."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 8:36 p.m.

The battle reflected in these pages calls forth a parable recounted in a recent column by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. It tells of a room in which "a zillionaire, a Tea Party person and a union member" confront a plate of 12 cookies: "The zillionaire takes 11 of the cookies, and says to Tea Party Person, 'That guy (the union member) is trying to steal your cookie.'?"


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

"Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget would cut $470 per student from (K-12)schools, while using about $900 million from the school aid fund to fund community colleges and universities." Again. Snyder is giving K-12 money to the colleges and universities.....why? We saw Sunday how the administrators were giving themselves fat raises! So why the money to higher ed, Snyder? Because you know that K-12 can ask for more money from us through millages? And has anyone heard Snyder comment on the escalation of administrative raises at college around Michigan???


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

"The schools have been cutting the hell out of everything for a long time, as you well know," Kearney said. "I mean, they're probably down at the bottom, they're down to the bone." Yes they have Mr. Kearney and the unions have avoided being a part of that process. The cutting has been largely to brick and mortar and to school programs which affect the students. Now it is time for the teachers across this state to come to the table, maybe the MEA can lead the way ? Just kidding with that last comment, it would never happen because the unions care only about themselves. Good Day


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

Rick is to be commended for go out and finding out what voters think now. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear his pro-business, anti middle class Republican worldview will change and he'll pretty much vote for everything Snyder and the Republicans propose with minor suggestions so he has some way to avoid blame for the inevitable. Which is handouts to business (with NO accountability that any jobs are really created for $1.8 billion...just like SPARK's funny numbers of jobs created). The state is broke because it gave away billions to the rich and business that was supposed to 'create jobs' and didn't. About $9 billion total over the last 15 years and what do we have to show for it? No jobs, just higher corporate profits and flat wages for workers. And higher taxes for the lower and middle class. Just look at GE - paid no federal taxes but got federal rebates and got paid for lots of jet engines with our tax dollars. They spend $235 million on lobbying (buying congressional votes) and made good profits but cut their US work force 20% and moved those jobs overseas. Corporations are loyal only to themselves not the country but we somehow keep thinking they'll do the right thing for their country. Sorry, not going to happen. It's amazing how someone like Olson can think that doing the same thing over and over is somehow going to produce a different result (aside from the rich getting richer and the middle class and poor getting pushed down and down). But no amount of facts or studies can change that hard mindset based on ideology. But then again it's about who funds campaigns these days: the rich and corporations. Welcome to the 1890s and the robber barons all over again. We'll have to re-invent unions, environmental regulations, and balance the impact of money on our democracy.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

I give Olsen some credit for going out there and explaining things fact to face. But in terms of actual political realities though no one is gonna be able to convince people who don't like you, didn't vote for you, and never will anything about anything. They don't trust you and the won't believe you no matter what. Leave the retired UM profs and Princeton admins to stew in their juices and concentrate on keeping your base (of reformers and taxpayers) happy Rep. Olsen. A steakhouse can tweak its menu forever the vegans are still never gonna dine there so why bother with 'em?


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

"Philip Kearney, a retired faculty member from the University of Michigan's School of Education and author of a primer on Michigan school finances, had choice words for Olson, who is generally supportive of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's state budget proposal. "He's screwing the schools," Kearney said of Snyder. "Old guys like me, too," Mr.Kearney, a retired U of M prof with a big ole fat pension, untaxed of course. Rather than do the right thing he is bitter and complains, perhaps he should be thankful he has that big ole fat pension and pay his fair share. The governor is not "screwing the schools", he is putting them on a much needed diet so they don't have a stroke or massive heart attack in several years.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

U of M employees have defined contribution plans, not pensions, the proceeds of which are taxed. But otherwise another of Stun's fact-filled posts. Good Night and Good Luck


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

If Mr Kearney is retired from UM, he likely does not have a pension. UM has a defined contribution plan, where you typically have to pay taxes, but at the lowered retirement age. But it does have to be big and fat and that is what the state will have to consider when switching defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans - people will have to be paid enough so that their retirement is sufficiently funded.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

"He's certainly making an attempt to try to reset the state, but you gore a lot of oxen in the process," Olson told Kearney. The Governor isn't goring oxen, he's fattening pigs and kicking puppies.

Ace Ventura

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

By the time the smoke and mirrors disappear from Ricks magic show expect to see a lot more people leaving this state.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

&quot;Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget would cut $470 per student from (K-12)schools, while using about $900 million from the school aid fund to fund community colleges and universities.&quot; From The Detroit News: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Really after we read all about where the money goes in David Jesse's well-researched Free Press article this really where we want our K-12 taxpayer money shifted?

Top Cat

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

Those in the public education industry are still stuck on their failed mantra, &quot;Let's pour state money into education so our educated young people can then leave the state for work and take their talent elsewhere.&quot; They have it backwards. Number 1 priority needs to be creating jobs and opportunity in Michigan. We were the only state that lost population in the last 10 years. The old way doesn't work.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:39 p.m.

Rick, PLEASE come to my door, and I'll remind you of the moderate Republican who came knocking at my door in September. And I'll point out that that allegedly moderate candidate, much like our dear Governor, has disappeared once elected and has marched in lock-step with the right-wing extremists in the legislature. And then I'll as you if you lied in your campaign or if you simply are a spineless jellyfish. Answer please? Good Night and Good Luck

5c0++ H4d13y

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:21 p.m.

People talk like the schools are closing down or something.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

Oh, and Plymouth-Canton's population increased by double digits according to the 2010 census, so the consolidation due to population trends theory doesn't apply.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

There are 6200 students at the high school alone. Good luck consolidating.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

Queequeg, how many teachers does Ply,Canton have? Also are the 300 from both of the two high schools on that same campus, Plym Canton and Plym Salem? Always thought that was odd. Great place to start thinking about consolidation.

5c0++ H4d13y

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

You may have noticed that Michigan is ONLY state to lose population in the last census. Combine that with a high unemployment. So really how is spending only going to go up to stay flat? Please don't bother with the &quot;corporate tax handout&quot; yarn. There are 49 other states that business can locate in. They don't often choose Michigan.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

Ah, they will be. Plymouth-Canton is going to pink slip 300 teachers, sell land, and close elementary schools. So yes, they are closing schools in addition to having classes of 40 or so students per room.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

When the business tax was first implemented, was it intended as a hidden state sales tax? So instead of collecting sale taxes from individuals for products and services sold, the state collected the tax from businesses instead. I don't know the history behind the business tax, can anyone help educate me if my theory is on or off target.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

Not sure if this is true or not, but I read it somewhere and thought it unfair so I will toss it in the mix. The issue was that a person owning a business has to pay the business tax and then also pay his/her own income tax. Perhaps not a large issue for a large business, but for a small business owner it seems like paying twice. Does anyone know if this was part of Michigan's tax on business?


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

Here's another way at looking at eliminating or decreasing business tax. The cost of doing business will become less expense...thus it may spurt new business relocating to Michigan or existing Michigan businesses expanding. Thus creating new jobs, which in turn generate more dollars in our economy and generate taxes paid to the state.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

Ghost - isn't that already happening with the current business tax. That the tax is being passed to the consumer now, but it's hidden.Thus, any new business tax is actually an additional tax increase on the consumer. I don't believe this would happen...but in theory if we decrease the business tax by the 1.8 billion...shouldn't businesses pass the tax savings down to the consumer? I understand businesses would only use this tax decrease to improve their margins.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

typo above: That's the argument against creating a new business TAX

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

That's the argument against creating a new business--it will get passed on to consumers. And the Lemmings believe. But once the tax is created, we are told that the tax costs jobs. In other words, the businesses are swallowing the tax. And the lemmings believe. Good Night and Good Luck


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

that's the gist of it, yes.

Christopher LeClair

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

This isn't &quot;Top Stories&quot; worthy. Is there nothing else happening in this city right now?


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:21 p.m.

Christopher, I agree get hits. Sigh


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 11:11 a.m.

&quot;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 ...&quot; For a businessmen, how does Synder figure this will work out? If the hole is 1.4 billion and he cut 1.8 more...then that is a bigger that make...sense? This must be why when I call Gateway to fix my broken computer I get a dial tone instead of an employed human.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 11:01 a.m.

I was a teacher at Adrian when Olsen was there. He didn't have a clue then. He was asked to leave. He still doesn't have a clue. What ever tax breaks business receives 99% of them will take that as profit and keep it in their own greedy hands.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

Garrett, maybe the film industry came to Michigan because of specific legislation to give TAX BREAKS and credits to the industry. I appreciate the help for my argument by citing a situation in which an industry ENTERED THE STATE because of tax benefits.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Dr Rockso If you're really interested, it's easy to find out how profits publicly traded companies are distributed. In February AT&amp;T for example (I started with the A's) paid out over $400 million in QUARTERLY dividends to its shareholders.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

Evenyou is correct. That is the hope anyway. Per the site noted by Cash, Michigan ranked 17 last year and this year. So, if the Gov's plan works, perhaps Michigan will rise in the rankings. If you read the accompanying article, it notes how states are in competition with each other and the item on Northrop Grumman is a good example. Has Governor Granholm taken this on some years back, Michigan may be in much better shape now toward recovery. Maybe not, no one knows if it will work, but it is quite obvious what we were doing got us into the predicament we are in now. Interesting list Garrett, but I suppose it would not be difficult to list companies who left the state too, like Phizer, and Comerica. And those who rejected Michigan, like VW. And while Michigan is home to the auto industry, they seem to be building plants elsewhere. That is one thing I would like to see the state do, urge the auto makers to reopen plants in Michigan.

Dr. Rockso

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

@ferdcom thats if there are any profits left after the executives steal as much as they can with their bloated salaries and and bonuses.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

@ evenyoubrutus Your comment is pure hyperbole. Why has Hollywood come here to make so many movies as of late? What are some of the largest manufactures of vehicles in the world still headquartered here? Other companies that, for some reason, put up with such an unfriendly state: Gordon's Food Service Visteon Zingermanns Borders Ziebart Whirlpool USA Jet Airlines Quicken ProQuest Penske Moosejaw Meijer La-Z-Boy Koegel JSTOR Faygo Dominoes Delphi Dow And the list goes on and on and on... Keep spouting that right-wing propaganda... it's working well for you.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

evenyou, Not quite. From The ten states with the least hospitable business tax climates are: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Ohio, Vermont, Maine, Kentucky, Nebraska, Iowa and Arkansas.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

YHS, tax breaks don't just help business owners, they draw other businesses into the state. Michigan is one of the least business-friendly states in the US, and they are hoping to change that.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

Most business profits are distributed to shareholders as dividends. Corporate shareholders include pension funds (including government employees and teachers) and individual retirement funds. In other words greedy people like you and ms.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 10:27 a.m.

I give this guys a lot of credit for walking around and discussing this issues with residents. More politicians should have to defend their policies and voting record... most unfortunately hide in the over decorated offices.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

I agree, I wish my rep would do that. I think I am going to his meeting coming up.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 10:06 a.m.

He should have come to my door. I would have made it simple. The state is broke, so cut spending. That was easy. Which spending? ALL OF IT!


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

Does anyone care about being a citizen friendly state? Personally I like to live in a state where I can earn a living wage, have the right to collective bargaining, have the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water, have my kid's future enhanced by a quality education. Don't let slick rick fool you, jobs follow education and a state that is attractive to live in, not the other way around.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

Mr. Blow, I'd prefer that someone give what's to be cut some intelligent consideration rather than blindly reacting.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

Appears that is what they are doing Joe.


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

Ideologues... a dime a dozen. What does a business do when the amount a person is paying for an item is lower than the item's actual worth? They RAISE the price of the item. They don't cut the electricity.