Governor addresses variety of topics

HOUGHTON – Gov. Rick Snyder addressed Medicaid expansion, Detroit’s bankruptcy and other topics in an interview with The Daily Mining Gazette Tuesday.

Snyder’s proposal to expand Medicaid coverage is sitting in the State Senate. Snyder said his proposal, Healthy Michigan, is “not just vanilla Medicaid expansion, it’s doing it in a tailored way for Michigan citizens.” The proposal includes incentives for people to manage their own health, such as a reduced premium rate for people who come up with a health plan with their doctor and meet their goals.

Two alternative proposals have come out of the State Senate, which Snyder said would be more expensive than his plan. One of those was announced Monday by Republicans State Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Rep. Nancy Jenkins. Their plan would move all Michigan residents with Medicaid or no insurance into health savings plans.

“That’s a bill that has some interesting aspects, but it would most likely cost more, and I’m not even sure if it would be viable under federal law,” Snyder said.

Addressing Detroit’s bankruptcy, Snyder said the next big step will be an eligibility hearing. So far, Detroit has gone through a number of necessary steps. One of those left is whether the city worked on trying to avoid bankruptcy and tried to work with credit. Snyder said he felt Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr had put in a significant amount of effort there.

“This is the right thing to do,” he said. “We need to solve this debt question and we need to get better services to citizens. The service levels there are unacceptable.”

During a press conference at the MTEC SmartZone Monday, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said her biggest concern about the bankruptcy was the safety of pensions for public-sector workers. Snyder said there had been greater flexibility prior to entering bankruptcy, where they become subject to federal law.

“Instead of some of the parties negotiating on that, they went to court and sued us,” he said.

Leaning forward, he said he empathizes with people living on a fixed income.

“My parents had that – they lived on Social Security and their savings,” he said. “It can be a difficult situation.”

To give pensioners representation in bankruptcy, the bankruptcy petition included a request for the judge to appoint a representative for them.

“That’s in process now, so they have a voice at the table,” he said.

Proposals have been made to raise the state minimum wage from its current $7.40, 15 cents above the national minimum. State Senate Democrats pushed a proposal for a $10-an-hour minimum earlier this year. Last month, fast-food workers in Lansing and Flint protested for an increase to $15 an hour.

Snyder described the chances of an increase as “highly unlikely.”

“If you raise it, you sort of cause jobs to disappear, so it’s a balancing act,” he said.

Snyder said he had no stance on what his ideal minimum wage would be. “I don’t have anything on the table with respect to that particular issue … I’m working hard on having our economy go better so it’s not just the minimum wage, but hopefully everybody’s wage that goes up,” he said.

Snyder said discussions on sources for road funding are continuing. If his proposed $1.2 billion investment package can’t be approved, they’ll continue to put money into roads, he said.

“So we’ll do it the old-fashioned way: we’ll just add numbers every year and keep on working towards solving the problem, if we can’t get a more comprehensive solution in place,” he said.

On gay marriage, Snyder said while he is open-minded about civil contracts and other options, he’s obliged to follow state law.

“The constitution has defined marriage, and that was decided by the voters some years ago,” he said. “…If people want to revisit that question, that’s something the Legislature can bring up, or citizens can look towards a petition drive.”

Snyder visited Houghton as part of his annual tour of the Upper Peninsula, which is tied to the U.P. State Fair. Other events in the Copper Country included Monday’s town hall in Hancock and the dedication ceremony of the Brockway Mountain corridor (see related story).

“It’s a great time of year to come up, and there’s a number of events to celebrate, and listen to the citizens in the U.P. about what their issues and concerns are,” he said.

Snyder said comments have been more positive than in previous years, which he said may be the result of economic growth. He’s received several questions on the mining and timber industries.

“We’ve got a strong regulatory environment, from the state perspective, for mining, and within that context, we support mining, as long as it’s done within the regulations,” he said. “The market’s been somewhat challenging, in terms of commodity prices.”

On the timber side, there was a summit earlier this year downstate that was well-received. Snyder said he’s also received good feedback on manufacturing and high-tech industries, pointing to Tuesday’s MTEC SmartZone celebration.

“I did a roundtable with a number of businesses, and they seem like most of them are growing, and doing fairly well,” he said.

Snyder declined to announce whether he will run for re-election in 2014. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer has announced he will run on the Democratic side.

“I’m honored being governor, and there’s a lot of exciting things to do,” he said.

“I think we should be proud of the Comeback State, but I’m not complacent or content with where we’re at. There’s much more work to be done.”