SIDNEY TOWNSHIP —Just three weeks into the new year of the Michigan House and Senate legislative sessions, the first local Legislative Update meeting of 2017 proved to be one of little detail.
Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, beginning her sixth year as state senator, and Rep. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake, beginning his first year as state representative, both shared hopeful messages Monday at Montcalm Community College for the future of the state as they prepare to move forward.
For Lower, the experience is new, as House committee assignments have yet to be assigned and his own personal office hours will be set later this week.
But in greeting his constituents, Lower said he believed Gov. Rick Snyder’s seventh annual State of the State address on Jan. 17 was a good indicator for how he also wanted to move forward.
“It was a pretty good speech, not overly long, and mainly talked about job growth and his agenda for the year,” Lower said. “I’m certainly excited to be your representative and to be here.”
Emmons also used Snyder’s speech as an indicator that she believes Michigan is in as good a spot economically as it has been in many years.
“I remember sitting through some of those that were pretty depressing, and we were digging to find any good news in the state,” she said. “
Emmons pointed to the state’s “rainy day fund,” a contingency to be used in the state of an emergency, as an example of where the state sits.
Emmons said in 2010 the fund contained just $2 million.
”That’s enough cash flow to run the state for about 20 to 30 minutes, which is pretty scary for a state our size,” she said.
Now in 2017, Emmons said that fund has ballooned to $700 million.
“That gives us a better cushion,” she said. “Things like the Flint water crisis, you never know when you’re going to have something like that pop up.”
Emmons also pointed to the state’s unemployment rate in 2016 at 4.8 percent — the fifth lowest in 40 years — as well as five consecutive years of state population growth, as indicators that Michigan is continuing to trend in the right direction.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
Emmons and Lower both fielded questions from the audience about national issues.
When asked about the potential of the Affordable Care Act being repealed under President Donald Trump, who was sworn into office last Friday, and how it would affect health care for Michigan residents, both Emmons and Lower said there remains too much that is unknown to make any predictions at this time.
“I don’t think we know what the federal government is going to do, this is going to take some time,” Emmons said. “I think you’re going to see a slow process here.”
Emmons said she does not believe the change will happen overnight, and signs of panic should be quelled.
“It’s hard, even in Michigan, to get a smaller Legislature to create significant change. It’s hard to get the votes, it’s hard to get folks to get together,” she said. “Now you’re talking about Congress, which is even greater. It’s not going to be at the snap of their fingers like some people think. It’s on their agenda, and I think there are probably improvements that can be made. Michigan will respond to address that when we know what those (changes) are.”
Lower said he agreed with Emmons, but he went into specifics about concerns he would like to see addressed.
“Judy is absolutely right, we don’t know what they are doing yet, but the point I like to make when I’m asked about this is, health insurance is not health care,” he said. “Simply having health insurance doesn’t make anybody any more healthy or any more sick. I’d really like the conversation to pivot, to talk about the actual cost of services as opposed to just giving people coverage. I want to take a serious look at ways to control the cost … that’s how you calculate your insurance premiums, it’s all based on what the cost is. So I hope that we talk about the actual cost of the delivery of services instead of just making sure that everyone is covered.”
POSITIVES, NEGATIVES OF PRESIDENT TRUMP
A question that received light laughter from the audience asked both legislators what they felt one main positive and negative of Trump’s administration might be.
Lower said he doesn’t believe enough time has passed to predict what may happen with the new president.
“That’s tough to say, we don’t really know what he’s going to do yet, we’re only three days into the administration,” he said. “He’s talked a lot about giving authority back to the states, so as a state legislator if he did that, that would be pretty exciting because we would have a lot more control.
“As far as negative? I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see,” he added.
Emmons gave a more cautious response, focusing on accountability and citizen involvement.
“Clearly there are folks on both sides of this, as to what will be good and what will be bad. Nobody is perfect, nobody is going to save us from ourselves,” she said. “We still have the responsibly to do the best we can do. We hold people accountable in elected positions, and he’s going to find that out. This is his very first elected position. He’s going to learn that he will be accountable.”
Emmons said regardless of who is president, the citizens of the country always have a responsibility to hold government accountable.
“We’ve had presidents that I’ve liked and presidents that I thought could have been better, but we still carry on as a country,” she said. “It’s because of the people — in places like Montcalm County — that we carry on, we do what we’re supposed to do. We have to stay involved, I think that’s the most important thing we can do as citizens.”