West Michigan lawmakers react to Gov. Snyder’s State of the State address

Posted at 11:37 PM, Jan 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-20 23:37:48-05

LANSING, Mich. -- West Michigan lawmakers spoke with FOX 17 following Tuesday evening's speech to share their thoughts on what the governor laid out during his 2015 State of the State address.

Most were pleased to hear the governor wants to focus on increasing reading proficiency to ensure students are reading at a proper level once they reach 3rd grade. However, some Democratic lawmakers said they're hoping the plans are more than just empty rhetoric.

“A lot of the ideas the governor is talking about are things Democrats have been talking about for a long time," said Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo.

"If 3rd grade reading proficiency is a key to lifelong educational outcomes, then let’s make sure we’re getting that right. If we’re going to be talking about this 'river of opportunity' let’s give people the right boats, oars and life vests instead of just letting them swim for themselves.”

'Putting people before programs' was the notion encompassed in Snyder's 'river of opportunity' pitch Tuesday night. The pending executive order which will merge two of the state's largest departments, the Department of Community Health and Department of Human Services was well received by the governor's fellow Republicans.

“I’m excited with his focus on the person, I think that’s really where we need to go, we have failed too many people in our society," said Rep. John Bizon, freshman Republican from Battle Creek.

"We need to make sure they’re educated and treated well to get them back into the mainstream of life and it seems like (Snyder) has a plan to go there."

As expected, Snyder used Tuesday night to push for support of the forthcoming May ballot initiative to raise the state's sales tax. During his speech the governor said 'it's time to do something and we need to do it now.'

Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, said he thought it was an effective first effort but acknowledged more convincing is still going to be needed for many voters.

“I think it’s always a challenge to ask people to tax themselves and so I think the Governor and others are going to have to  keep informing and keep educating the public," VerHeulen said.

Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, echoed VerHeulen's sentiments about the ballot initiative.

“I hope that people who were at home sitting on their couches understood that as legislators we worked very hard to get to that point (the ballot initiative), she said. "It’s not an ideal solution for the road funding problem but it is one we have right now and it was very bipartisan.”

In a somewhat unexpected move, Snyder also called on lawmakers to continue the debate to extend the state's Elliot Larsen Civil Rights to include gays, lesbians and transgendered individuals.

It's a move hailed by several Democrats including Hoadley, who said he was 'excited' to Snyder willing to call for an expansion.

“That’s a critical part to attracting and retaining the best talent in Michigan," Hoadley said.

"Millenials look for places that welcome everybody. I was disappointed more of my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle didn’t stand up but I think this is a really good show of leadership from the Governor."

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, told reporters after the speech he wasn't 'looking to bring that up' again after it stalled out in last year's lame duck session.

Snyder did also wind up briefly mentioning the state's looming budget shortfall of more than $300 million Tuesday night, it's a move VerHeulen said demonstrated the governor's effort to want to be transparent.

In a night chock full of 'shout-outs,' Gov. Snyder also took time to acknowledge Cascade Engineering of Grand Rapids which launched a program in the 1990s to promote welfare-to-work participants. It's an initiative which played in nicely with the Snyder's 'river of opportunity' theme.