ESCANABA - Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, took a break from Lansing and an alleged election scandal (see related story) to speak with members of the Delta County business community at the Terrace Bay Inn Friday morning. Topics of discussion included the Michigan budget.
"Coffee and Conversation with the Speaker of the House," was hosted by the Delta County Commerce Center at the Terrace from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, joined Bolger for the event.
"It's a real pleasure to be able to bring the Speaker up to the U.P.," said Rep. Ed McBroom. "To be able to finally bring him up here, so he can hear and from you. Instead of you just having one voice saying it, he can hear voices that I always hear and the discussions that I always hear."
Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, standing, left, and Rep. Ed McBroom, far right, answer questions from the local business community during the Coffee and Conversation with the Speaker of the House at the Terrace Bay Inn Friday morning. (Daily Press photo by Ilsa Matthes)
Bolger praised the U.P. for its work ethic.
"As beautiful as the U.P. is - and it's knock yourself out, knock your socks off gorgeous here in the U.P. - the people exceed that beauty," he said. "That work ethic that you build things with your hands. You get your hands dirty and get dirt under your fingernails. You're gonna advance manufacturing. The point is you build things that you can see, you transform things."
According to Bolger there were three key areas of support the legislature has focused on in the last two years to help balance the budget and lower the unemployment rate. "There was tax reform, regulatory reform, and spending and operations reform," he said.
These reforms were aimed to make Michigan a more appealing place for businesses. "As you look at job creation, we have to be competitive here in Michigan. To make Michigan a better place to find a job, we have to make Michigan and the U.P. a better place to provide a job," said Bolger.
The tax reform has changed the ranking for Michigan's business tax. "We were the 49th worst business tax in the country. Other rating agencies have now ranked us in the top 10," Bolger said.
Michigan's spending has also seen significant changes. "That deficit you read about in the paper year after year, because there were gimmicks, there were games - it had not really be resolved. We wanted to be sure we pressed the rest button. We wanted to face reality," said Bolger. "That $1.5 billion deficit, due to very difficult but necessary spending decisions, resulted in a $500 million surplus.
"It wasn't just about cutting spending, about balancing the budget, it was also about reforms," said Bolger. "There was one day in the legislature where we repealed one law, 18 rules, and 217 regulations. I think that was not just a good day, that was a good start."
For Bolger, the decision of which laws, rules, and regulations need reform comes down to common sense. "If it meets a common sense test, if it truly protects our citizens, then we should look at how we best are efficient and effective with that regulation. If it doesn't do that, and there are a whole lot that don't do that, then we ask, 'why are they on the books and should we remove those?'" he said.
Representatives from local businesses expressed frustration with regulatory groups like MIOSHA. Bolger responded by saying he wanted to change the culture of these organizations.
"When I say change the culture, in government too often there is a culture of you're guilty until proven innocent, or there's an assumption that you're seeking to break the rules instead of coming and asking and seeing how we can help you meet the rules," Bolger explained.
Other guests expressed interest in creating a closer working relationship with Lansing. Suggestions from guests included video teleconferences and required visits to the U.P. from committee members.
The sentiment was echoed by McBroom. "We've had Energy and Tech up here, as well as Commerce, and we have to take them on the road and listen," he said.
Bolger recognizes the importance of spending time in the U.P. as well. "It's so important to get out and listen. The important part of the work most often happens outside of Lansing," said Bolger.