Relief for families struggling with inflation, gas prices

Families in Monroe and Lenawee counties and across our state are dealing with the highest inflation in 40 years and gas prices that have skyrocketed to record levels.

Inflation has a real and direct impact on people’s lives — as the costs of virtually everything increases faster than family budgets can keep up.

From May 2021 to May 2022, grocery prices increased by nearly 12% — the largest 12-month increase since 1979. The costs of meats, poultry, fish and eggs increased 14.2%, with the price of eggs alone jumping by 32.2%.

The summer cookout is an illustration of inflation’s impact. The price of ground beef is up 14.8%, bacon is up 17.7%, cheese costs 6.5% more, lettuce is up 12.7%, pickles are up 9.3% and the hamburger buns will cost eaters 10% more this year.

At the same time, everyone, from workers and seniors to schools and small businesses, is feeling the pain of record high gas prices.

According to AAA, the average per gallon price for regular gasoline in Michigan was $5.22 on June 11 and the average diesel price on June 15 was $5.85. Both prices are the highest recorded average prices in state history.

At these prices, it costs workers over $193 to fill up their Ford F-250 truck with diesel fuel and parents will need to pay $94 to gas up the family Chrysler minivan.

My Republican colleagues and I saw what was happening and took action. We passed two commonsense plans to reduce inflation’s impact on Michigan families by allowing everyone to keep more of what they earned and by providing significant relief at the gas pump.

Unfortunately, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed both of these sensible relief proposals.

Undeterred, we passed a second plan to help every Michigander by lowering the state’s income tax to 4%, increasing the personal income tax deduction by $1,800, creating a $500 tax credit for each child under the age of 19, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, and boosting the tax exemption for Michigan seniors over 67 to $21,800 for individuals and $43,600 for couples.

The governor recently vetoed that plan, which would have provided taxpayers with roughly $2.5 billion in income tax relief.

The Senate also passed a plan to suspend the state’s 27.2 cents per gallon excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel and Michigan’s 6% sales and use taxes on motor fuel from June 15 to Sept. 15.

The bill would hold local governments and public schools harmless while saving drivers over $800 million at the pump throughout the summer driving season.

Our state is seeing a historic surplus that was recently estimated to be $5 billion more than projected four months ago.

Efficient use of taxpayer dollars has put us in a position where we can afford to provide this critical relief — and there’s no better time than now when folks are struggling with the skyrocketing costs of everyday items.

I respectfully ask the governor to join the Legislature and put people over government spending by supporting these affordable and responsible efforts to reduce the burdens on Michigan families trying to make ends meet.

Helping build better communities

I have worked hard as your senator to help strengthen our economy by concentrating on fiscal sustainability and business growth and by reinforcing education through STEM and career technologies.

While we have much to do, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved for Lenawee and Monroe counties. In this column, I’ll highlight some support we delivered for Lenawee County. I’ll highlight the Monroe County support in a later column.

As a strong advocate for investing in in­frastructure, I was able to secure over $100 million in direct investments to Lenawee County that included job training, road and downtown improvements, business incubators, and blight elimination through housing, sewer and wastewater projects and drinking water initiatives.

Matching private investments provided an additional $25 million and 400 new jobs.

We helped recruit PlaneWave Instruments to relocate from California to Adrian to manufacture high-end telescopes, supported a $22 million economic development grant for Morenci to help provide job training for a KAMCO Industries expansion project, and secured a $32 million grant for an Inteva plant expansion to support new automotive technologies.

Lenawee Now received a $190,000 grant for a business incubator program in the new Adrian/Tecumseh SmartZone, which also was awarded an $80,000 grant through the competitive Michigan Build Ready Sites Program.

The city of Adrian was selected to participate in the Michigan Main Street Program, received a $1.45 million grant for renovations to six downtown buildings, and earned a $2.9 million grant for blight elimination, historic preservation and rental rehabilitation at the Strongback Four Corners Redevelopment project downtown.

Tecumseh got a $1 million grant and a $1 million loan to address brownfield conditions at the former Tecumseh Products facility, where the company is mediating contaminated soil and groundwater. The $25 million project will convert the 55-acre site into a useable open space.

Roads are critical to our economy and daily life. Lenawee County received $5.5 million to create a 9.7-mile primary route between M-52 and US-223 and a $375,000 grant for work on the Tecumseh-Clinton Highway. Tecumseh got a $369,234 grant for work on South Evans Street, Morenci and Cement City were awarded small-town road funding grants, and Adrian got a $7 million grant to build a pedestrian tunnel under M-52.

The city of Hudson received a $5.2 million low-interest loan for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and collection system, and Tecumseh got a $1.76 million low-interest loan for the rehabilitation of its sanitary sewer and the replacement of an electrical transformer and a pump station.

We also secured a $2 million infrastructure grant for Morenci to reconstruct water and sanitary sewer mains, resurface three streets, and complete a rebuild of a lift station and iron removal filter system.

To increase the enjoyment of our great outdoors, I helped secure a $300,000 grant toward the Kiwanis Trail project to connect Adrian and Tecumseh with 7.7 miles of paved, dedicated trail.

Education is critical to our future, and I was proud to serve on the Michigan STEM Advisory Council, secure a $76,000 grant to purchase a CNC plasma cutting system for Lenawee ISD student training, spearhead a group of K-12 teachers and administrators to develop a program to provide remedial math opportunities, and work with Madison and Hudson schools to secure state construction permits to build a stadium press box.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs are our first responders and must have the tools, training and support to protect our communities. I was successful in implementing laws to protect our first responders, including passing Public Act 349 of 2018 to update the Move Over Law and PA 203 of 2015 dealing with firefighter certification reciprocity with other states.

I also supported the creation of the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund for firefighter work-related cancer treatment, secured funding for additional state police at Michigan International Speedway events, and passed measures to dedicate memorial highways in honor of State Troopers Roger Adams and Calvin Jones.

These are just a fraction of the efforts we have made over the last seven years. The governor recently signed a $4.7 billion infrastructure supplemental that will also add to these achievements.

As we work to pass a budget for next year, I will continue to focus on investments that help improve our communities and our state for years to come.

For a more detailed report, contact my office at (517) 373-3543 or via e-mail at [email protected].

Need to build on 2021 bipartisan successes

As we outline our plans for 2022, we should look to build on the bipartisan achievements of 2021. Although we continued to face challenges last year, we worked together to fight COVID-19, prepare our students for success, get people back to work, support our small businesses, and keep our communities safe.

While my Senate Republican colleagues and I worked hard to push back against the governor’s unilateral mandates that hurt our economy and our children’s education, we were able to find common ground on a balanced budget that puts a priority on improving the lives of all Michigan families and gets students back in the classroom — all without raising taxes.

We enacted a historic K-12 school budget that brought every Michigan school district’s foundation allowance up to at least $8,700 per student. This means that — for the first time ever — every district in our state is now getting the same amount in minimum per-pupil foundation allowance funding.

We included critical funding to tackle learning loss, ensure classrooms are safe, and address student mental health concerns.

The budget also featured $1.4 billion to lower rates and recruit more childcare workers, $190 million to repair or replace local bridges, $95 million for career training programs, $33 million to train new state police troopers and corrections officers, and increased funding for local governments to support our firefighters and police officers.

I was able to help secure millions of dollars in direct funding to enhance the lives of families in Monroe and Lenawee counties, such as $3.5 million for an east-west connection tunnel in Adrian, $2.9 million for additional road maintenance staff at the Monroe County Maintenance Facility, $300,000 for traffic safety during Michigan International Speedway race weekends, and $25 million for a pilot program in the western Lake Erie basin to increase the participation of agricultural lands using best management practices for water quality.

After four years of trying, I was also able to secure $2 million to improve the River Raisin National Battlefield Park with an integrative education center that Michigan State University projects will attract more than 600,000 visitors and serve over 100,000 K-12 students every year once it’s open.

Among the other achievements made last year, we enacted legislation expanding cancer-related worker’s compensation coverage to volunteer, part-time, paid on-call, and former firefighters — ensuring these local heroes get the medical care they need if they get cancer.

We also passed measures that would ensure Michigan residents have safe roads and bridges as well as healthy drinking water for generations to come.

Senate Bill 529 would utilize $1.3 billion in one-time federal funds to repair bridges across the state that are in serious or critical condition. SB 565 would invest $3.34 billion to preserve and protect Michigan’s water quality, infrastructure and environment — including $1 billion to replace lead pipes across the state and $700 million to upgrade local drinking water and wastewater facilities.

While we accomplished much in 2021 to help build a brighter future for the Michigan people, there is still much work to do. I believe that the budget process illustrates that we can work together to improve our state, and I am committed to building on that success this year as we meet the challenges facing Michigan families.

Help replace the Line 5 pipeline, not unilaterally shut it d

There have been numerous reports recently that the Biden administration is weighing the potential market consequences of shutting down Line 5.

Just a few months ago, a Russian cyber-attack on a major pipeline from the Gulf Coast to the New York region resulted in gas shortages in multiple states. When asked about using rail cars to transport fuel during the closure, former Michigan governor and current Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that “pipe is the best way to go.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues her unilateral efforts to shut down the Line 5 pipeline without a viable alternative way to safely transport its energy resources to homeowners in the U.P. and refineries here in the Toledo and Detroit areas. Now it appears the president is also looking into it.

The governor announced she was revoking a 1953 easement that allows Enbridge Energy to run the dual pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac. Questions about her actions and if she even has the power to take those actions on an international pipeline are pending in both state and federal court.

However, if the governor is successful in her reckless attempts to shut down the pipeline, it would be devastating to our economy and the lives of millions of struggling families and small businesses.

It has been estimated that over 500 direct jobs at the Toledo PBF refinery could be lost and workers at the Toledo-area BP-Husky refinery and the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Detroit would also be affected. Union workers from the Toledo PBF facility came to Lansing in May to show their opposition to the governor’s efforts.

In addition to the lost jobs, shutting down the pipeline would affect millions of other Michigan families through increased prices for gasoline, products that rely on trucks to bring them to consumers and propane used to heat most homes in rural areas.

As a small business owner and avid outdoorsman, I understand the need to balance protecting our environment and supplying Michigan families with affordable and reliable energy.

In 2018, I supported legislation to replace the aging Line 5 pipeline with a new pipeline housed in a multiuse tunnel 100 feet under the straits. The tunnel would virtually eliminate any risk to the Great Lakes, and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy in January issued some of the permits required to build the tunnel — concluding it can be done in compliance with our environmental laws.

To transport these resources without the pipeline would require tens of thousands more rail cars and trucks as well as oil-carrying barges and tankers on the Great Lakes — at a much greater risk to our water and our people.

Instead of trying to unilaterally shut down Line 5, the governor and the president should get out of the way and allow Enbridge to construct a tunnel — at its own cost — below the Straits of Mackinac as soon as possible and safely replace the existing pipeline.

Whitmer should help replace Line 5 pipeline, not unilaterally shut it down

In May, a Russian cyber-attack on a major pipeline from the Gulf Coast to the New York region resulted in gas shortages in multiple states. When asked about using rail cars to transport fuel during the closure, former Michigan governor and current Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said, “pipe is the best way to go.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues her unilateral efforts to shut down the Line 5 pipeline without a viable and safer way to transport its energy resources to homeowners in the U.P. and refineries here in the Toledo and Detroit areas.

The governor announced she was revoking a 1953 easement that allows Enbridge Energy to run the dual pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac. Questions about her actions and if she even has the power to take those actions on an international pipeline are pending in both state and federal court.

However, if the governor is successful in her reckless attempts to shut down the pipeline, it would be devastating to our economy and the lives of millions of struggling families and small businesses.

It has been estimated that over 500 direct jobs at the Toledo PBF refinery could be lost and workers at the Toledo-area BP-Husky refinery and the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Detroit would also be affected. Union workers from the Toledo PBF facility came to Lansing in May to show their opposition to the governor’s efforts.

In addition to the lost jobs, shutting down the pipeline would affect millions of other Michigan families through increased prices for gasoline, products that rely on trucks to bring them to consumers and propane used to heat most homes in rural areas.

As a small business owner and avid outdoorsman, I understand the need to balance protecting our environment and supplying Michigan families with affordable and reliable energy.

In 2018, I supported legislation to replace the aging Line 5 pipeline with a new pipeline housed in a multiuse tunnel 100 feet under the straits. The tunnel would virtually eliminate any risk to the Great Lakes, and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy in January issued some of the permits required to build the tunnel — concluding it can be done in compliance with our environmental laws.

To transport these resources without the pipeline would require tens of thousands more rail cars and trucks as well as oil-carrying barges and tankers on the Great Lakes — at a much greater risk to our water and our people.

Instead of trying to unilaterally shut down Line 5, the governor should get out of the way and allow Enbridge to construct a tunnel — at its own cost — below the Straits of Mackinac as soon as possible and replace the existing pipeline with a new one safely in the tunnel.

As our former governor said, “pipe is the best way to go.”

Bringing people together

The people of Michigan have been through a lot during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. We in the Legislature have a responsibility to all of them to overcome our divisions and come together to defeat the coronavirus, build back our economy, improve their lives and restore their trust in government.

During his inaugural address last month, President Joe Biden focused on the theme of uniting together. He said, “To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and to secure the future of America — requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”

Our country was founded on the idea that “We the People” have the power to choose our leaders. Key to that principle is that after the people’s voices are heard, we have an orderly and peaceful transfer of power. As we welcome a new president, we must unite as a nation for the good of our people, our republic and liberty throughout the world. We are still facing historic challenges, and I wish President Biden success in working together to meet our challenges and improve the lives of all Americans.

Gov. Whitmer also talked about working together in her State of the State address, in which she said that we need to “focus on what unites us” and that her “mission is to find common ground, so we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the president and the governor that we need to unite as a country and as a state. It is what our people expect and deserve.

I remain committed to working with the governor to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Michigan families. We owe it to the people to restore their voice in government decisions that will have both short- and long-term effects on them and their way of life.

Only by uniting as state leaders on addressing the enormous issues facing our state can we effectively and safely get through this pandemic, protect our people from the virus, support our local businesses and workers, ensure our students are prepared for success, attract new talent and job providers to our state, and emerge better and stronger at the end.

Our state and nation have faced great and grave challenges in the past. Each time we rallied around each other to meet the challenge and improve our communities.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Answering that question has been a driving force that has guided me during my more than three decades in public service in local and state government, and it will continue to lead my efforts to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle to improve the lives of families in Monroe and Lenawee counties and throughout Michigan.

Whitmer’s deadly nursing home policy

We must do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable residents, especially during a public health crisis. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 the governor and lieutenant governor failed to do so — with deadly consequences.

When COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S., one of the few things we knew about it was that it was much more dangerous for the elderly. As a result, the national Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance in mid-March about how to control COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes are not hospitals, and they are certainly not an appropriate place to house patients with COVID-19 unless they have a confirmed plan to isolate those patients from the other residents.

However, instead of protecting our most at-risk seniors from the coronavirus, Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order in April forcing nursing facilities with less than 80% capacity to create space to accept patients with COVID-19, regardless of their ability to care for them and isolate the spread of the virus.

As a result, over 2,000 people in our nursing homes have died from the virus, accounting for one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in Michigan. Placing COVID-19 patients in nursing homes without adequate protections for residents was irresponsible when some hospitals were not full and two field hospitals that were set up to serve thousands of patients went mostly unused.

It was a preventable tragedy, and I joined my colleagues — in a bipartisan fashion — in support of legislation that would ensure our state had the ability to treat future COVID-19 patients while never again jeopardizing the lives of nursing home residents.

Senate Bill 956 would have prohibited the placement of COVID-19 positive patients in nursing homes unless the facility could properly isolate and treat the patient. It also placed a priority on separate dedicated facilities for positive patients.

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the measure and refused to change her failed policy.

Recently, the governor’s own Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force released recommendations that echoed that very same legislation she vetoed.

The governor’s rejection of the bipartisan legislation, which would have already implemented some of her task force’s recommendations, and her refusal to admit her mistake and work with the Legislature on corrective actions continues to jeopardize our seniors in nursing facilities.

While the Legislature, medical professionals and our citizens have asked the governor for the scientific data she is using, the U.S. Department of Justice has also requested COVID-19 data from the administration concerning executive orders that may have led to the deaths of nursing home residents. I am hopeful they will be more successful in getting the data, answers and accountability that the governor refuses to provide to us.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist stated publicly “President Trump is a liar who has killed people, straight up.” I join the people of Michigan who were appalled at such a remark, especially coming from a sitting lieutenant governor. It was disgraceful. Instead of hurling insults, the governor and lieutenant governor should instead focus on providing answers to the families of the thousands of elderly Michiganians lost due to their tragic decisions.

The Michigan people deserve better.

 

New Line 5 tunnel is best way to protect the Great Lakes and great jobs

Since I joined the state Legislature in 2011, I have tried to put my real-world experience as a small business owner, local government official and avid outdoorsman to use to improve our state, protect our outdoors and help create good jobs for workers.

These three goals were the main reasons I supported legislation last year to replace the aging Line 5 pipeline currently on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac with a new pipeline housed in a multiuse tunnel 100 feet under the straits.

Construction of a tunnel to hold a replacement pipeline is the best long-term option to remove the existing 66-year-old pipeline from the Great Lakes and protect both our environment and our economy. The tunnel would virtually eliminate any risk to the Great Lakes while enabling the safe transportation of energy resources to homeowners in the U.P. and refineries here in the Toledo and Detroit areas.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s attorney general is trying to stop the construction of the tunnel and shut down the existing pipeline altogether. Closing the Line 5 pipeline without a viable replacement in place is irresponsible and could have a devastating impact to our state and region.

To transport energy without the pipeline would require tens of thousands more rail cars and trucks as well as oil-carrying barges and tankers on the Great Lakes — at a much greater risk to our water and our roads.

Officials at the Toledo Refining Co. have said that 550 jobs could be lost if Line 5 were to be shut down. Workers at the Toledo-area BP-Husky refinery and the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Detroit would also be affected.

In addition to the lost jobs, shutting down the pipeline without the tunnel to replace it would impact millions of other Michigan families through increased prices for gasoline, jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, and propane used to heat most homes in rural communities.

I regularly hear the concerns from local residents about the impact if the state shuts down Line 5 without the tunnel. Their concerns are shared by many area leaders, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who sent Gov. Whitmer a letter this summer urging her not to shut down the pipeline.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. In this case, that is to let Enbridge construct a $500 million tunnel — at its own cost — below the Straits of Mackinac, put a new Line 5 pipeline safely in it, and remove the existing pipeline from the Great Lakes.

Protecting Michigan’s outdoor heritage

We are blessed to have world-class natural resources and numerous outdoor activities in Michigan that help make our state such a great place to live and raise a family. Among these activities are hunting and fishing, which have been family traditions for longer than Michigan has been a state.

I am proud to be a member of the Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus — a group of lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties who come together to conserve, preserve and promote Michigan’s great outdoors.

The caucus is dedicated to ensuring our natural resources are protected, advancing the rights of Michigan residents to affordably hunt and fish, and increasing family outdoor opportunities.

Our sports men and women are among Michigan’s greatest custodians of the state’s natural resources — and they also are important to our economy. According to a report commissioned by Michigan United Conservation Clubsand based on a study by Michigan State University professors and researchers, hunting and fishing generates $11.2 billion for Michigan’s economy each year.

By purchasing gear, booking hotels, eating in restaurants, leasing land and spending money in numerous other ways, our 1.1 million anglers and over 700,000 hunters support more than 171,000 jobs — contributing $3.3 billion to Michigan families in salaries and wages.

Anglers and hunters also help with conservation efforts and wildlife management by purchasing licenses and controlling animal and fish populations.

The revenue generated from sports men and women helps conserve fish and wildlife, provide clean and healthy landscapes and maintain public access to these resources.

The expansion of the Petersburg State Game Area in Monroe County is a prime example of this system in action. The state used funds from the sale of waterfowl hunting licenses to acquire 72 acres of land adjacent to the game area to restore critical habitat for wildlife conservation and public enjoyment.

A few of the legislative issues the sportsmen’s caucus continues to work on include improving the Natural Resources Trust Fund to allow more constitutionally restricted funds to be invested into enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities, stopping Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, protecting our water from PFAS and implementing better Department of Natural Resources services and technologies.

To ensure Michigan continues to attract enough outdoor enthusiasts to fund our conservation efforts, we must also help to engage young people about hunting and fishing — so they will become the next generation of sports men and women and keep our outdoor traditions alive.

I hope you all have a chance to get outdoors and experience everything Michigan has to offer.

House panel approves hospice drug disposal bill

On a regular basis, we see the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic in our state and our local communities. To help combat opioid abuse, the House Healthy Policy Committee recently approved my legislation that would allow hospices to help patient families safely dispose of excess prescription drugs.

At the heart of this ongoing crisis is the easy access to highly addictive drugs, and my bill targets the issue by allowing unused medications of patients receiving hospice care to be safely destroyed.

Under current law, a hospice employee may not assist in disposal of the controlled substances. Senate Bill 842 would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to implement rules for the disposal of controlled substances in the homes of hospice patients when drugs are not needed by the patient or the patient has died.

The bill also would require a hospice or a provider of hospice services in a patient’s private home to establish and implement a written controlled substance disposal policy.

The policies would need to include procedures for offering assistance in disposing controlled substances and recording the patient or the family’s decision on accepting or declining assistance, as well as requirements for witnessing the disposal and providing a patient or family with information on the safe disposal of prescription drugs.

I thank the committee for their action and urge the House to pass this important legislation to establish clear guidelines for how hospices can help grieving families safely dispose of unused prescription drugs after a loved one has passed away.

SB 842 has been sent to the full House of Representatives for consideration.