GREENVILLE — In an effort to hear, in their own words, their vision for the state of Michigan, including ideas and current projects in the works, The Daily News editorial board sat down with State Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and State Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, on Monday morning for a question and answer session.
Outman began the hour-long meeting by laying out what he hopes to accomplish in the foreseeable future if he is re-elected to office on Nov. 6.
“We’ve accomplished a lot this year,” Outman said. “Typically this time of year, you’re fighting in the 11th hour to get a budget passed. Fortunately for us, we continue to get (the state budget) done way ahead of schedule and that is credit to our governor.”
Outman said because the state budget was submitted in a timely manner in May, compared to previous administrations when the state budget wasn’t passed until the final hours in September, that has allowed legislators to have more time to concentrate on issues that are important to residents of Michigan.
“That frees up a lot of time, past May, to get other issues done,” he said. “For me, a lot of my issues are going to be jobs related.”
Outman said his “No. 1 priority” is to bring jobs to the state of Michigan.
“As far as jobs are concerned, we continue to improve the business climate in the state,” he said. “Last I heard (according to an article in Crain’s Detroit Business Magazine) we were the second best state for building businesses, but we want to be No. 1. We’re not going to settle for anything less. We want other states to look at us and say, ‘They did it right.’”
More importantly, Outman said the state needs to focus on “economic gardening,” an economic development model that embraces the idea that entrepreneurs drive economies.
“We have businesses here that are already existing, and I think they need to be a priority,” Outman said. “They’ve been here, they’ve been loyal players in this state and we need to continue to build a relationship and foster a climate that helps them flourish. We know there are a lot of business-savvy people that are out there and we need to encourage them to pull the trigger.”
Emmons said her main point of focus is on creating better communication within government departments to eliminate wasteful spending.
“For me, one of the issue we are going to be looking at is streamlining communication within departments,” she said.
Emmons pointed to an example within the Department of Human Services to explain her case.
“All of the sectors within that department were talking to each other on how they can streamline and share information,” she said. “But you would have thought they would have been talking about those things in prior years.”
Emmons also cited a case within Protective Services.
“Protective Services didn’t talk to those who were handing out food stamps, there just was no communication between everyone,” she said. “They have brought forward some proposals that, hopefully, they will be sharing more information and streamlining that information so the resources will be spent for the folks who actually need it, rather than having (the departments) spinning their wheels.”
Emmons said changing they way people communicate within departments is no easy task.
“When you start changing things that people are comfortable with, they pull back,” she said. “But if it works, we should be doing it. It doesn’t matter where the idea came from or who thought of it.”
On the topic of the size of government, Outman said he believes it is time for Michigan to accept the idea of operating with a smaller government. He believes this can be accomplished by reforming the government and to “right-size” the government. By shrinking the size of the state government, Outman said he believes it will reduce the need for revenue for the state.
“It isn’t just a function of shrinking government, although right now I think that’s what it is because government has become so big and so intrusive in so many parts of our life and I don’t think it belongs there,” he said. “But there is a point in my mind, where we right-size it, have it performing the functions we think it should perform, such as public safety and public education. In my mind, we’re not there yet, but we’re working towards that.”
On a more personal note, Outman said one cause that sticks out in his mind is helping veterans to assure they have job placement in Michigan.
“I’m a veteran in this state and so is my son-in-law,” he said. “I would love to see him and my grandson, who live in Kentucky, come back to this state. They live in Kentucky because he got a job opportunity down there that he couldn’t get here. We’re really working hard to make the opportunities for veterans paramount, at least their job-seeking opportunities.”
Outman referenced a bill that would allow veterans who, once have become certified through the military in areas such as plumbing, trucking, electricians or other similar trades, would not have to re-test once leaving the military and joining the private sector.
“If you’ve already been doing it in the military and are certified, you are more than qualified to do it here (in Michigan).” he said.
One issue brought before Emmons by the editorial board was the topic of the new International Bridge Crossing. As a member of the Senate Economic Development Committee, Emmons was one of two committee members who voted in favor of a new bridge to Canada in October 2011, but the motion failed 3-2.
Emmons said she is still in favor of creating another bridge.
“Two of us in the Senate are on the record having voted for the bridge,” Emmons said. “You’re talking about a man who has millions of dollars and a monopoly and I really do think that some folks were bullied and maybe there are many that are convinced that we don’t need it.”
Emmons said many opponents of an additional bridge believe that the government shouldn’t be impacting a private business. In this case, that private business would be the operation of the current Ambassador Bridge, which is owned by Manuel Moroun, owner of the Detroit International Bridge Co.
Emmons, however, disagrees with that notion.
“I came to the conclusion, listening to testimony, seeing that it has always been in private hands, but it’s a different scenario today,” she said. “I realized that this is a man who privately owns the only crossing in that area who could sell it at any time to anyone from any country from any political persuasion. That’s not a good feeling to have for your state or for your country.”
Emmons said that the construction of an additional international crossing would help to create jobs in Michigan.
“It’s going to create some jobs, mainly construction jobs, and we have a shortage of welders in this state,” she said.
Both Emmons and Outman agree that job creation is among the most important issues to Michiganders today. Both believe Gov. RIck Snyder is taking the state in the right direction.
“(Snyder) is a task master and he’s on schedule and expects us to follow,” Outman said. “He’s running things more like a businesses. Sometimes you get what you voted for, and you got what you voted for here in spades. In no way shape or form is he a politician.”