GLADSTONE - Gov. Rick Snyder and fellow elected officials visited Gladstone High School Wednesday afternoon for an afternoon of robotics and a town hall meeting to discuss Michigan's future.
The governor began his visit to the school by participating in a demonstration from the Gladstone Brave-Bots' and the Escanaba Robomos' FIRST Robotics teams. As part of the demonstration of the mobile robots, which fire flying discs, the governor tried his hand as the remote operator for the Brave-Bots' robot.
"I think that FIRST Robotics is incredibly helpful in the sense that it teaches (skills that) can be anywhere from computer software skills to mechanical skills to electrical skills to business plans and even fundraising," Snyder told the Daily Press following his operation of the robot. "So it really teaches people teamwork, in the broadest sense, and then any one of those specialties - or all of them - to someone on a team."
During the town hall that followed the demonstration, Snyder was joined on stage by state Rep. Ed McBroom, state Sen. Tom Casperson, and Gladstone Area Schools Superintendent Jay Kulbertis. While the town hall included a variety of topics, Michigan's educational system remained a major focal point of the discussion.
In addition to expressing his support for programs which allow school students to receive college credits while still in high school, Snyder tackled the issue of funding K-12 education. He noted that for the past three years, since taking office, the state has increased the amount of money given to K-12 education in the state, with a total average of $632 per student in increases.
"We're trying to do all we can to help the school districts deal with this issue while at the same time saying we do need to be more efficient on how we do things. I want to compliment you, you guys are doing this great. You actually have a superintendent that's doing two school districts. that's the kind of attitude we need," said Snyder, referencing Kulbertis' position as the superintendent for both the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts.
Snyder addressed the issue of legacy costs, such as the cost of paying pensions for retired state and school employees, and cited the issue as a major reason for schools and cites having less funding available.
"If you go back to retirement systems for example - pensions, and helping retirees have medical care after they retire - If you look at the system we had in Michigan, we didn't necessarily fund things they way we should have in terms of setting aside dollars for a lot of years. On the healthcare piece we didn't set aside any money for retiree healthcare."
Citizens asked the governor about the state of Detroit, which recently filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
"For Michigan to be a great state we do need Detroit to be on the path to being a great city again regardless of where we live in the state. The good part I can tell you is we are going to turn around Detroit. It is going to happen in a positive way," said Snyder.
"The bankruptcy thing was a really tough decision to make. I know because I had to make it. But it was the right decision and I'm willing to be held accountable for making that decision," he added.
Following the town hall, when asked by the Daily Press how he would have handled the pensions in Detroit, Snyder declined to comment.
"I don't see a point in going back in getting into blame and all those kinds of issues. They could have been better managed," he said.
Snyder also tackled the issue of Medicaid expansion in the state during the town hall, stating he believed much of the contention over the issue was the effect of the polarizing Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
"Vanilla Medicaid expansion I didn't agree with," said Snyder. "I want to thank the House in particular, they did a lot of work. They passed a bipartisan bill called Healthy Michigan which talks about Medicaid."
According to Snyder, the bill would allow for low income residents to receive expanded Medicaid coverage. The residents would be required to pay back a percentage of their income as a premium and would be allowed to reduce that premium if they followed certain guidelines recommended by their doctors.
Snyder believes this system will reduce costs for Michigan residents by encouraging low income residents to live healthier and seek preventative care rather than only visiting emergency rooms.
"How's the current system work when they go to the ER? We pay for that through higher insurance premiums and other mechanisms, so we're paying at an extremely high cost to all residents," he said. "By keeping Healthy Michigan all we're doing is changing who writes the checks but we're going to reduce that overall cost. That would save us all money."