MARQUETTE - At a town hall meeting Monday hosted by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Meghan McLeod - a young teacher who's been instructing special education classes at the Gwinn school district for 2.5 years - stood up and said Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget leaves her with few options.
Snyder's budget, unveiled in February, calls for sharp cuts to benefits paid to public employees at the state, local government and school district level. It calls for salary concessions and teachers to pay 20 percent of their insurance.
She said prior to taxes, she makes less than $31,000 a year and if Snyder's budget goes through she has two options: either move in with her parents or move somewhere else that will pay her more.
"I love my job. I did not go into education to make money. I went in for these kids. But if I cannot financially pay my bills, pay my loan payments, all those things, then I have those two options. I don't want to have to, on my 25th birthday, move home with my parents," she said.
The town hall meeting, held in the Marquette County Circuit Courtroom, was standing room only. The mood of many in the audience may have been best summarized by one man who, during the discussion, shouted, "We're all worried! This is why we're having this heated conversation! Everyone in this room is worried!"
Snyder's budget also calls for cuts to K-12 funding which would result in a $471 reduction in per pupil funding for fiscal year 2012.
A standing room only crowd listens to state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, answer questions during a town hall meeting Monday at the Marquette County Circuit Courtroom. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Mike Flynn, a member of the Ishpeming school board, said the Ishpeming district, among other money-saving cuts, has already closed its middle school, moving its fifth- through eighth-grade students to the high school; privatized its custodial service; contracted bus maintenance; laid off staff; and plans on laying off three more teachers at the end of the year.
"If this cut happens we will be forced, possibly, to lay off as many as 11 more teachers ... our Ishpeming students cannot afford a cut of this magnitude," he said.
Flynn asked everyone in the audience who supported not cutting the schools budget to stand. Nearly everyone in the room jumped to their feet while cheering and clapping.
Casperson said he does support cuts to education "because I don't see how we get around not doing some type of a cut." However he said the $471 per pupil was too much and he is working with other legislators to try to minimize the cut.
Many in the room said they were upset Snyder's budget cuts school funding while giving tax breaks to businesses in the form of a flat 6 percent corporate tax.
Casperson said the concept behind the 6 percent tax is to make Michigan's tax structure competitive with surrounding states.
He said the state tried raising the business tax in 2007-08 and after an initial increase in the first year, the state's revenue has been steadily decreasing since.
"The business community either struggles with it, so they're not hiring, or they're leaving ... I'm trying to make some type of a level playing field for Michigan so we can compete," Casperson said.
Dave Kallio said the governor is foisting his corporate agenda onto the state and offered Casperson some political advice.
"If you guys get behind and just follow his lead you're going to be doing things that the people of Michigan didn't want. We may have wanted a surgical cut here and there, we didn't want a butcher knife ... I would suggest to you and your fellow Republicans that you temper some of his ideas and think about the people of this state and do your best to solve problems without hurting people the way it appears the government is headed," he said.
Other topics discussed Monday included bullying legislation, County Road 595, taxing of pensions, higher education funding, an Internet tax, regulatory agencies and tort reform.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.