Local state representative provides update to Rotary

DOWAGIAC — A local politician took the floor in the Dowagiac Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Thursday via Zoom.

State Rep. Aaron Miller was the club’s special guest this week. Miller is approaching the end of his third and final term as representative of Michigan House District 59.

The district includes the entirety of St. Joseph County and parts of Cass County including the city of Dowagiac, and the townships of Calvin, Jefferson, La Grange, Marcellus, Mason, Newberg, Penn, Pokagon, Porter, Volinia and Wayne.

“Serving in a very important capacity in a very high responsibility position is something I’ve tried not to take lightly over the years,” Miller said. “I resolved to be open and transparent with people and that goes for everyone.”

Miller discussed the state’s $62.7 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which was signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week.

The general government budget includes a $17.7 billion education budget for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities, and more than $45 billion to fund state agencies and programs. Because of reduced tax revenues due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, only $250 million was cut from state agency budgets

“It seems routine, but it’s really a huge deal,” Miller said. “A lot in the state budget goes to many different areas of the state. This year the budget was done late because of COVID, and yet it was still much better than we thought it was going to be in. Due to a lot of the federal money that was trickling down through state tax systems, we were able to have the budget be in pretty good shape.”

A former middle school and high school teacher, Miller serves as the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid. The School Aid Fund budget for the fiscal year was announced to be roughly $15.5 billion.

“In the School Aid budget, we’ve got a lot that is pro-student,” Miller said. “I remind everybody that when we can do good things for teachers and the teaching profession that also was pro-student because good teachers are probably the first step in a good education for all our youth, and the state and public education as a whole is very important because of that.”

With the election out of the way, Miller does not expect any new legislation over the next several weeks.

“Election time is upon us, and so we’re not going to be in session for a few weeks here,” Miller said. “We’ll be in right after the election, and I don’t really anticipate any major legislation on the horizon, but you never know coming up to the end of a session.”

A native of Sturgis, Miller has enjoyed learning more about Cass County and its people.

“I didn’t know Cass County all that well when I started,” Miller said. “I’m from the other corner of Saint Joseph County in Sturgis. I’ve lived there all my life and that’s a long way away from Dowagiac. I’ve tried to spend just as much if not more time in Cass County at events over there. Not having your representative from there means there’s a lot of ground to make up. There are a lot of contacts to make and a lot of acquaintances to make, so that’s what I’ve tried to do over six years.”

Miller has been impressed with Dowagiac’s growth and development over the course of his three terms.

“Dowagiac has a wonderful downtown and has a lot going for it right now,” Miller said. “It has really talented people at the helm, and that goes for all elected officials in Cass County. I’ve never seen local elected officials who are more vigorous in getting out to the community than the officials in Cass, and that’s a wonderful thing in a blessing to all who live there.”

Rotarian Barbara Groner also announced that Rotary would resume in-person meetings at noon Oct. 15 at the Cass County Council on Aging’s Front Street Crossing, 227 S. Front St., Dowagiac.

The announcement comes after a recent executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer increased the attendance of non-residential indoor gatherings and events to a maximum of 20 people per 1,000 square feet or 20 percent of fixed seating capacity.

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