As Michigan recovers, don’t forget jobs and the jobless

Last week, when the number-crunchers in Lansing were debating how much “extra” money might be in the state coffers next year and what to do with it, I didn’t hear nearly enough about how we can make sure we keep the focus on jobs and those who have been unemployed through no fault of their own.

Instead, too many folks seemed more interested in how they might continue to send additional tax breaks to the wealthy and keep Wall Street happy.

With the mess in Washington and the unlikelihood that Congress will restore the unemployment benefits they allowed to lapse just three days after Christmas, it is even more important that we here in the state do everything we can to help the jobless get back to work and keep their family afloat while they do. Michigan’s unemployment rate continues to hover at an unacceptable rate near double digits, higher than the national average. And the threat of losing the unemployment resources for good would not only hurt these families directly, it would eliminate the money they spend supporting their local businesses. That’s something Michigan just can’t afford right now.

I agree with those who are suggesting we get rid of the recent tax hikes on seniors, families, and workers. And the proposals to invest in our schools and communities make a lot of sense. But a few additional steps we should take include:

Measuring every decision by whether or not it helps people get or keep a good-paying job. Too often which special interest is louder or campaign donor benefits is more influential in the end. We need to make sure we also raise wages so that anyone who works hard isn't still living in poverty.

Restoring state unemployment benefits that were slashed a few years ago. Michigan was one of the first states to reduce state eligibility from 26 to 20 weeks and it will hurt families and our economy even more now that Congress has dropped the ball.

Stop taxing unemployment benefits. If you want to provide tax relief here is a good place to start, especially since not all states have this tax and we know these families would pump those dollars right back into our local economy.

These are just a few examples of steps we can take to keep the focus on jobs and unemployed families. We all know that good jobs are the key to many challenges we face in areas like education, public safety and health care.

As the Governor delivers his State of the State tonight, and the budget debate rages on in the coming months, I’ll keep listening for ways they plan on helping create jobs and making the economy work for every family.

Senator Ananich represents the 27th District which includes Flint and much of Genesee County. He serves on the Senate Economic Development, Transportation, Banking and Financial Institutions, and Health Policy Committees. You can find more information on his website.

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jean kozek
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 10:04am
The Republican Party, which claims a close affiliation with the Chamber of Commerce, has control of the state legislature and the governor's office. The Party's focus is to improve the business climate in Michigan so as to attract new businesses and business expansion. The Single Business Tax was repealed. Business tax laws were changed, but only certain businesses benefitted from the $1.7 BILLION tax cut. A Right to Work (without union representation) law was passed. All of these changes were made, yet, two months ago Forbes magazine still ranked Michigan as 47th in the category of Business Climate. It seems that neither the Republican Party nor the Chamber are effectively representing business interests. It seems that Business Climate refers to more than just tax cuts and fewer business regulations. "Climate" also relates to whether people (workers and businesses) find a state an attractive place to live. The quality of public schools, infrastructure, broadband accessibility, affordability of college tuition, etc. are also part of the calculation. Have any of these areas been positively affected by our current government? The Republican Party set the agenda and failed. As a consequence, unemployment in Michigan has remained above the national average. When the state cut taxes for particular businesses, it had fewer tax dollars to send back to counties and cities. Local governments, therefore, have had to lay off workers and reduce wages for others. One billion dollars were cut to public schools Local road projects have been delayed. Public universities saw reduced revenues so college tuition remains high. Taxes were raised on middle and low income workers who now have fewer dollars to spend, again, negatively affecting local businesses. It is both a disappointment and a surprise that the current elected officials have actually caused harm to the residents of our state. They need to accept that they have contributed to our unemployment rates and protect those now un and under-employed by providing unemployment benefits and other services until our state and our country escape the current recession. Workers did not cause this recession, but they and small businesses seem to be the only ones so negaltively affected by it.
Mike R
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 11:26am
Excellent analysis. Thank you for being yet another voice to call out the Republican agenda, which clearly has little to do with their stated goals of improving the business climate in this state. It's all about lining their own pockets, imposing their own religious beliefs, and solidifying their stranglehold on government, all at the expense of the rest of us (who are still in the majority).
Tracy Davis
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 9:46pm
If "the rest of us" were still in the majority, a Democrat would still be the Governor, and unemployment would still be at 14%. Instead unemployment is down 5 percentage points, property values continue to rise, and contrary to the talking points, middle class taxes are lower (and will likely be lowered more). Cutting the EITC isn't a tax hike, it is removing a credit (AKA welfare). Forget the argument about taxing retirement, that simply makes everyone carry the same level of burden. You can despise Republicans all you want, but at the end of the day the majority of Michiganians are better off today than they were three years ago.
Fri, 01/17/2014 - 5:05pm
Tracy Davis--so, we are better than 3 years because of Republicans? Does this mean we are also better off because of a Democratic President? Without the auto bailout we would be in a world of hurt!!
Diana Menhennick
Sun, 01/19/2014 - 9:53am
Tracy: There are many people in Michigan, including myself who are not doing better now than three years ago. The balance of sustainability continues to be in a tilt to the point of breaking from the stress. The jobs are not be created by the private sector as promised with all the policies that were changed to allow for a more friendly business environment. What are being created are service jobs with low wages that do not allow anyone to be sustainable as an individual or family. It's time for the private sector to step up to the plate and create good paying jobs.
Eunice Burns
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 10:36am
As a not very original comment, there is only one reason that the legislature proposes a tax break (and not for those who really could use it). It is, obviously, to gain favor with the electorate and to hide the facts that this legislature is doing all it can to weaken democracy and to keep women from having a place in making decisions which directly affect them. Remember the "vagina" brouhaha? Laughable if it wasn't so serious.
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 1:10pm
It appears that the Senator would like to turn state government policy back to the way it was, .... when we were running big deficits, losing jobs, and we were sending employers fleeing. Granted job growth isn't what anyone would like but how does going back to giving tax free pensions to our wealthiest demographic group help? Seems no other states in county think much of that idea either. And the Higher minimum wage, I assume you refer to? I rechecked my econ books and I can't find anywhere that raising a price for a given good ever increased the demand for that good. "Measuring every decision by whether or not it helps people get or keep a good-paying job" Does maintaining workers in a perpetual unemployed never never land waiting for specific jobs that may never come back accomplish this? I applaud the Governor for bringing up ending the job killing person property tax. If we want to encourage investment in job creating equipment , there's a great place to start.
Mike R
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 1:34pm
Matt, check your history. When Henry Ford took the then-unheard of step of paying workers $5 per day (at a time when many workers made as little as fifty cents), he was universally condemned by businessmen and other "experts" for starting the country on the road to bankruptcy. Instead, it was one of the most brilliant decisions in business history: his workers had the ability to buy his cars in droves, the money found its way into the rest of the economy, and the middle class was born. Every time there's been an increase in the minimum wage, there's been a concomitant rise in the GDP and the average income of both individuals and businesses in general. Conversely, there's no evidence that raising the minimum wage ever resulted in an economic downturn. You're applying the wrong economic theory: this isn't increasing the cost of a good, this is increasing the ability of people to buy goods and services, to the ultimate benefit of everyone. Like it or not, the economy of this country and this state rests on the spending of consumers. Keeping money out of their hands does no one any good.
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 3:58pm
Mike there is a big difference between Henry Ford raising pay rates on his own volition in conjunction with the huge productivity gains he brought about with his production line verses the government just arbitrarily waving a pen and saying pay rates should now be X+Y without regard to where it comes from. If not made up through productivity, which it isn't likely in this case, that increase must come from somewhere. The likely places are not usually desirable and may explain much of the youth unemployment we and much of the world face. The law of supply and demand will always eventually win.
Byron Williams
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 6:00pm
Matt --What I constantly hear is that taxes are too high and too many regulations. Does this mean that no taxes or regulations would be just great for the economy? Detroit, Flint and Saginaw is the results of unrestrained capitalism. One of the problems that I see is automation of factories. The concept is great, but how many boxes of cereal or cars do robotics devices purchases? American business seems to be obsessed with maximum short term profit. A friend of mine that worked at GM thought it was great to product cars in Mexico at $1.25 /hour. I asked him how many Mexicans can buy a GM product at that wage
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 10:08pm
I'm not necessarily pushing the idea that our taxes are way too high, although in many areas they definitely out of whack. For example We pay more tax per gallon than almost any state in the county (yet little goes to our roads). We favor this group and that purchase and against others. T-bone steak, Lions tickets, golf at Treetops - no tax! Buy a coat for your kid or food for your dog - whack! We still hit businesses much harder in many ways that individuals would go into absolute revolt. I pay personal property tax on every piece of equipment at my business. Let's try that on your big screen TV! My company sends no children to our local schools uses very little in public services and yet is hit with a 40% higher property tax rate than home owners. Yet we still hear from Democratic leaders businesses are getting some huge gifts our current state government. Mind you again the state corporate income tax rate is 6 not the 4 we pay as individuals! If individual paid the taxes businesses do, the smoke coming from Lansing, would be it burning.
Thu, 01/16/2014 - 4:40pm
How about using it to improve the roads that the Governor has tried so hard to do. That way we all benefit from better roads, and we put a lot of people back to work, who in turn will spend their wages locally, and the multiplier effect of monetary velocity will begin.