Stabenow: GLRI funding vital for Lakes

HOUGHTON – Cutting funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will damage the ability to respond to problems, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said during an interview Monday night.

The initiative, which combats invasive species in the lakes, was established in 2009. A House subcommittee is proposing funding be cut from from $285 million to $60 million.

When Asian carp were believed to be above the electric fences in Chicago, they were able to respond within a week with testing and monitoring. That never would have happened so fast without the GLRI, Stabenow said.

“The fact that the House wants to cut that this year is something that should unite every single member of our delegation, Democrats or Republicans,” she said. “There shouldn’t be one member of our delegation voting for that, because it’s certainly not a partisan issue.”

As part of her efforts to promote awareness of the GLRI, Stabenow toured Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center this morning.

Monday, she was in town celebrating the 10th anniversary of the MTEC SmartZone. Stabenow said the local business incubator has created 350 jobs, which will grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.

“The success here in Houghton/Hancock is an example of why other communities should be expanding SmartZones, because it’s a way of pooling resources, to help small businesses get started, to share equipment and technology, to share ideas with each other and innovations and allow them to grow, be successful and spin off and create jobs,” she said.

Stabenow won’t face re-election until 2016. But no matter what, she’ll be joined by a new member of the Michigan delegation in 2015, as Sen. Carl Levin is retiring. Stabenow touted U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Detroit, who has announced he will run.

“I’ve worked with Gary for a long time,” he said. “He’s really, really terrific, really smart. Born and raised, thoroughly Michigan, so I think he’d be a terrific person to be our next senator. I’d like very much to work with him.”

Asked about Detroit’s bankruptcy, she said everyone wants to make sure funding for infrastructure such as roads and lighting will be available. But her biggest concern is with public-sector employees, who unlike their private-sector counterparts, don’t have protected pensions.

“We have a lot of folks that are living on a $18,000- or $19,000-a-year pension that are scared to death right now that their pension will go away,” she said. “And that should not happen. People who have paid into a pension should know that that will be there.”