The Wednesday morning general session featured a panel discussion between the directors of four major statewide assoications to discuss budget and tax issues currently facing Michigan.

Panelists included, Gilda Jacobs, Executive Director of the Michigan League for Human Services; Charlie Owens, Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Michigan Chapter; Doug Rothwell, President and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan; and Eric Schneidewind, President of AARP of Michigan.

Doug Rothwell led off the discussion by stating that while there is no one quick fix for Michigan's economy, we need to first improve our competitiveness and the quickest way to do that is to change the state's tax structure to encourage business development. Mr. Rothwell did note that while we do need to invest in cities, infrastructure and higher education, we must first "right the ship".

Gilda Jacobs asked the question if what the Governor has proposed and the business community supports is a balanced approach. She noted that in order to change the state's tax structure what has been offered to date is cuts to schools, revenue sharing and higher education which will create a tax shift.  The cuts will put a burden on local communities.  The alternative would be to freeze the income tax rate, cut tax expenditures across the board, get corrections spending in line and long term move to a graduated income tax and expand the sales tax on services.

Charlie Owens noted that his members are optimistic because they see a governor with a vision, a vision they agree with.  Some will actually pay more under the governor's business tax proposal, but remain supportive because they believe "he gets it". Mr. Owens also said he believes the pension tax is fair and that the past 10 years hasn't been any fun for his members either.

Mr. Schneidewind was adamant in his contention that the proposed plan is unfair for seniors and those who depend on government services. He stated that the change in the business tax will actually amount to a 86% reduction that will be borne by everyone else in Michigan. He noted that there are two roads we can take -- the governor's road wihich will lead to a poorer Michigan, or a second road of real self-sacrifice across the board by seniors, communities and business.  His members are willing to pay for services.

With League CEO Dan Gilmartin moderating, what took place over the remaining session was a excellent back-and-forth between the participants as they attempted to further stake out their positions on the budget and governor's proposal.  The divergent views among such powerful statewide groups became clear to the audience as did the tough road ahead in forging policies that will move Michigan's economy forward.



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