Legislature began 2011 with such high hopes

By George Darany
As the year comes to a close and we get ready to welcome in 2012, I would like to thank the thousands of residents who have contacted my office this past year.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent my hometown of Dearborn in the Michigan House of Representatives. We began the legislative session with a new governor and new leadership in the Michigan House and Senate. And we started off the year with such high hopes that the “reinvention” of Michigan would take place in a bipartisan nature.

We had hope that the thousands of unemployed Michigan residents would be back at work and providing for their families. Hope that our kids would be provided the quality education that they were promised and that they deserve. Hope that our senior citizens, who have worked hard their entire lives, providing for their family and bettering their community, would actually have the nest egg they saved for. And hope that our children and grandchildren would be provided with the job opportunities that would allow them to stay in Michigan.

Getting our economy moving in the right direction and helping employers create jobs is still one of my top priorities. Unfortunately, this target often became blurred by the leadership in Lansing. Instead of focusing on job creation, we have seen bills pushed through the Legislature by its majority that raise taxes on seniors, families and low-income workers, all while continuing to cut education funding. At a time when many of our families are still struggling to make ends meet, they now have to worry about the Legislature failing to support their children’s education.

It is no secret that education is crucial to the future success of our state. We already are beginning to see the impact of the cuts to the school aid budget through increased classroom sizes, layoffs and the declining quality of our children’s education. Our schools are supposed to prepare our students with the skills needed to get a good-paying job that will support themselves and their families in the future.

However, the cuts that we have seen this year were done to give tax breaks to corporations and special interests — all without the guarantee of a single new job. I understand that the governor wants to attract top-notch employers here in Michigan. That is a goal we all want, but there are some in this state that seem to be missing a vital part of this equation. Businesses will not move to or expand in Michigan if they cannot find the well-educated workforce to help their businesses grow. And businesses will not come to Michigan if their employees cannot find good quality schools for their children.

What is even more disheartening is that even as we approached the last day of session for the year, the attacks on our education system continued. This is evident with the recent passage of the removal of the limit on the number of for-profit charter schools that can be opened in the state.

Statistically speaking, according to the Michigan Department of Education 2011 Statewide Top to Bottom List, only 1 out of every 6 charter schools will outperform a public school. So rather than compromising our children’s education at the expense of corporate profits, we need to be focused on true education reform.

It doesn’t make sense to allow these schools to open up and compete with existing schools for funding if they are not providing the return on investment needed to prepare our children for an ever-changing, 21st-century economy.

The $1 billion in cuts to education are only the start of the misguided legislation that we have seen passed this year. The new tax structure that was forced through by the leadership in Lansing does not represent the shared sacrifice that the governor promised. Instead, it gives an 83 percent tax break to wealthy CEOs and big businesses and it balances the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.

For example, earlier this year we saw the reduction of the earned income tax credit, which provides a small incentive for working families. We saw the elimination of tax credits for charitable giving to places like food banks and community foundations, which are needed now more than ever.

We saw a new law where Michigan became the first state to significantly reduce its unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. This reduction sends the wrong message to our struggling citizens, many of whom are unemployed at no fault of their own.

And we have also seen the pensions of our retired workers taxed, attacks on our police and fire officers who work every day to keep our communities safe, along with continuous attempts to erode support for our school teachers who are of great importance to the success of our students, and even more reductions in revenue sharing to our local communities.

All this is in addition to legislation signed into law that undermines the voice of the voters in our local communities. This Emergency Financial Manager legislation allows financial managers to usurp the authority of our elected officials and it puts the fate of our financially struggling cities in the hands of an EFM with little or no oversight. It allows cuts to vital services without the input of any community members or local officials. Transferring this type of power to an EFM is extremely concerning and it is irresponsible to ask our local communities to bear the brunt of our state’s financial burdens.

Throughout the year, it has been clear that the leadership’s focus has been on corporate profits at the expense of Michigan’s hard-working families. However, as I am sure we can all agree, job creation needs to be a top priority if we want to move Michigan forward. Since February, less than 5 percent of the legislation passed by the House will have any actual impact on job creation. We are clearly not where we need to be when it comes to job creation.

We have a talented workforce that is ready to get back to work and we need to be focusing on legislation that will help businesses provide job opportunities for Michigan workers. We need to come together and focus on efforts that bring emerging industries to our state and spur economic growth.

I am disappointed with the lack of bipartisan cooperation by my colleagues in the state legislature this session. As of writing of this article, only 4 percent of the bills signed into law were sponsored by Democrats and there is something to be said about cooperation when 96 percent of the bills signed into law come from only one side of the aisle.

Michigan’s citizens deserve a government that works together in order to find the best possible solutions to the challenges we face. The Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education and local teachers are outstanding examples of what can be done when individuals show respect for one another and work together. The two groups came together to implement a new health care trust to manage teacher benefits and save the district money. This example of collaboration allows me to remain optimistic that this type of cooperation can be implemented by the Michigan legislature and that our state’s best days still lay before us.

As always, I welcome your input and feedback and I look forward to continuing to work with you on legislation that will move our state forward. I wish you and yours all the best in the New Year.

(State Rep. George Darany represents the 15th House District. To contact him, call 855-775-1515 or email him at georgetdarany@house.mi.gov. To sign up for his e-newsletter, go to his website, house.mi.gov/gdarany.)