MARQUETTE - How Michigan deals with mental health and transportation issues is at the top of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley's concerns.
Calley visited Mead Auditorium at Northern Michigan University Friday to speak about "Transforming a Great State" as part of NMU President David Haynes's Critical Issues Conversation Series. He also spoke to the media before the presentation.
"In the 1990s, we made really big changes in Michigan by closing down so many of the mental institutions," Calley said.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley speaks to about 100 people in Mead Auditorium at Northern Michigan University Friday as part of NMU’s Critical Issues Conversation Series. (Photo by Christie Bleck)
That might sound callous to some people, but Calley pointed out those institutions weren't the answer in dealing with people who have mental health issues.
"It's isolation," he said. "It's prison. The idea we would isolate and segregate a segment of the population and lock them away is an unacceptable solution."
However, society wasn't equipped to support the former patients, Calley said. What they do have going for them, he said, is the ability to be independent, moving away from dependence to being taxpayers.
Options for improving their independence, he said, include early childhood education and workforce development.
"We're making a huge investment this year in early childhood education," Calley said, "and this, I think, will be one of the biggest payoffs of the current proposals."
The real benefits will come over the long term, he said, and kids eventually can enter college, obtain vocational skills or become entrepreneurs.
Getting them on the right track, though, will involve the right relationships between schools and parents, said Calley, who has an autistic daughter.
"I suggest we can do a lot better with the resources allocated today," he said, "and rethink what we can do."
Calley also pointed to the Mental Health and Awareness Commission, which is focusing on these issues.
He still stressed government isn't the only answer.
"We can do much, much more when we don't limit it to a government solution," Calley said.
Transportation also is at the top of Calley's agenda. One obvious challenge specific to the Upper Peninsula, he acknowledged, is snow removal.
"Part of that is a resource issue, which ties back to the way we pay for roads and bridges and infrastructure," he said.
That way, linked to stagnant gasoline taxes because of the increased number of fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, points to a declining revenue stream, Calley explained.
This fiscal year provides for added funds for roads and bridges, but Calley said the government will have to look at more efficient ways to fund infrastructure and extend road life.
Calley is a firm believer that government needs to conform to the people - not the other way around, and that means doing things differently from the way they had been done in the last 10 years.
"It was like a lost decade," Calley said, "and now it's time to make up ground."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org