Tyler: Lansing looks to slash 15% to 20% more

Published 7:14 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dowagiac Daily News

Brace for yet another 15 to 20 percent in budget cuts across the board, state Rep. Sharon Tyler warned Dowagiac City Council Monday night.

“I’ve been visiting departments within Berrien and Cass counties,” Tyler, R-Niles said, “and asking, ‘What can you live with? What is mandated by the federal government? What is mandated by the State of Michigan? Where do you receive federal monies that are matched?’ ”

The veteran economic developer, who succeeded term-limited Neal Nitz of Baroda in January, said, “We find local inspectors, state inspectors and federal inspectors. Do we need three? We’re finding there are certain pass-through agencies that it might be easier to take money from one agency and go directly to the next.”

Tyler said, “At a budget retreat we came up with a list of reforms. It’s not cemented in gold, it’s a working basis to find cuts. If you see certain reforms that are going to harm the city, please talk to me about it. I work for you, but we are going to have to make cuts and reforms to make it through. We’re very blessed right now that we have stimulus dollars, but what we’d like to do is free up the stimulus dollars that you can use to create jobs for Michigan.
Build infrastructure that you need where the stimulus dollars were intended originally.”

“I’m concerned that the stimulus dollars are just going to build the budget, which doesn’t allow us to move forward,” she said. “Unfortunately, when you’ve got to reform or shift funding, somebody’s probably going to lose a job. But if we can create more jobs and find other jobs to create a better environment for all, that’s what counts first. We have to work with both parties to come up with a plan. We also have to work with the Senate and with the governor. Hopefully, we can find solutions. Unfortunately, when we come to hard times, this is when we strip away some of the layers we’ve created over the years. If you find families in need during this time, please call my office and let’s take care of them. That’s what concerns me the most.”

Her staff tries to respond to constituent concerns within 24 hours.

“Communication is the key to great success for all of us,” she said.

As agriculture vice chair, Tyler said, “They’re here to stay. They can’t leave when business gets hard. We’re seeing a lot of growth in food processing. We’ll be meeting Thursday. One of the issues we’re dealing with is animal welfare rights. Farm Bureau has worked with us to come up with some new legislation that works for all.”

As a member of the education committee, Tyler said, “Oh, my gosh, there are going to be a lot of changes. I feel Proposal A needs to be reformed. A couple of issues we’ve been dealing with, failing schools. If you’re in a school system which has failed for the last four years, the state could take it over and people would have to reapply for their jobs. Also, we’re looking at dual enrollment for college prep or a career pathway. Career pathway does not mean you stop your education, it’s just a different pathway to a diploma. The reason we’re looking at that is because the governor requested an additional algebra class. Because of the budget crisis, by executive order they did delay having to force the schools to do fulltime kindergarten, although I know Dowagiac’s school system already implemented it, but a lot of my schools in the (78th) District have not.”

Changing the dropout age from 16 to 18 is also under consideration, the first-term lawmaker reported.

“My concern is what do we do with them if they’re not fitting in now and they can’t make the algebra class,” Tyler said. “I think you’re also going to see, one of the items I co-sponsored, is allowing junior colleges baccalaureate degrees. We are blessed having Southwestern Michigan College and Lake Michigan College in our district. I think that is the best plan for us in this area. We do have Andrews University (in Berrien Springs) and Western Michigan University (in Kalamazoo), but I know a lot of people can’t afford to travel or to pay for housing, and I want to support my community.”

In senior health, retirement and security, Tyler said legislators are working on a bill to allow videotaping for those with disabilities who cannot appear in court during trials.
Third Ward Councilman Leon Laylin told Tyler the state should require schools to teach home economics before graduation “to forestall the credit crisis that we’ve got going on now. We don’t want it to happen again. So many families don’t have the ability to run a budget, even for their own incidental family operation. We’re falling down by not having that mandatory in our schools.”

In too many families, “There’s not that parent to teach them because everybody’s working and leading hectic lives. They’re survival skills,” Tyler agreed.

“It makes it difficult, too, when the credit card companies can advance a young person $1,000 with no explanation of how to pay it back or the consequences of not paying it back,” observed Third Ward Councilman Dr. Charles Burling.

“They don’t even have a job and they’re already in debt when they begin their lives,” Tyler said. “I agree.”

“As a parent,” the dentist said, “you can be unaware that’s going on because you can’t snoop into their business.”

Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Comstock steered Tyler back to the Obama administration stimulus “we’re all going to pay for eventually. How do they determine what percentage of what territory gets that?”

Tyler, who is not on the appropriations committee, said Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed a committee to oversee stimulus dollars.

“The biggest concern I have,” she said, “is that sometimes you have to create additional programs to take these dollars. Can we afford to maintain what we create? I received over 100 stimulus projects. The first chosen had to do with health and safety. A lot had to do with drinking water issues. They were the first ones implemented, and they were not really new projects, but had been sitting on the shelf for five to seven years, waiting to be funded. In a certain sense, they’re not true-blue stimulus projects. If the city had a shelved project, we could possibly push that one ahead. But if it’s a brand-new one, the older ones probably have seniority. I hate to say that, but it’s what I’m seeing.”

City Clerk Jim Snow questioned Tyler about reports the DEQ, or state Department of Environmental Quality, might be relinquished to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Don’t do it,” Snow said, “even if we can’t completely fund it as it should be. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

“Only 13 states have DEQs,” Tyler responded. “It was created during Gov. (John) Engler. Certain compliance things could go back to EPA, but you still need a state agency so, basically, in our plan we ask DEQ for an 18-percent cut.”

First Ward Councilman Darron Murray asked Tyler about Amtrak.

“Amtrak’s important for us,” she said. “I know certain companies and employees go back and forth. I know there are two plans. One is maintenance of the current system. Then there’s another one to add an additional line. I do know there are certain stimulus dollars that are going to be used. I don’t have the answer yet because we’re negotiating, but you may end up findingĀ  – and this is what concerns me – that the money comes from stimulus dollars taken out of the budget in a shift. I also feel there might be another plan within those stimulus dollars for Amtrak. I did vote to maintain it because it’s crucial to my district. When you look at being for high-speed rail, we’re right in the middle between Detroit and Chicago. We may not be able to maintain it to the ability we have, but we’ve got to maintain the track and (train) stops. You have less stops than the Niles area, and I’m concerned they’re going to take away ours and give them to someone else. People rely on those stops today. I’m watching it very carefully and I have my staff watching. If you lose that, I don’t know how you’d ever get that back. We have to fight, and I know Congressman Fred Upton is a great supporter of it. And I know state Rep. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) is, too, because it really affects southwest Michigan.”

The council met with Tyler for more than 15 minutes.