Proos: Economic Future is Optimistic

proos commercialHerald Palladium

State Sen. John Proos, seeking re-election in the 21st District, says Michigan’s economy is heading in the right direction, while acknowledging that it still has a long way to go.

“To say that the economy has rebounded for everybody, I think the evidence is clear that no, it has not,” said Proos, seeking a second four-year term in the Senate. “We have a long way to go to get back to where we once were.”

Before being elected to the Senate in 2010, Proos, 44, served as the state representative for the 79th district of northern Berrien County for three terms until he reached his term limit.

If re-elected, it would be his final term in the Senate due to term limits.

Proos is a 1988 graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marquette University and a master’s degree in higher education administration from Michigan State University.

Before he was elected to the Michigan Legislature, Proos was deputy chief of staff and district director for U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

Following this November’s election, the 21st District will encompass Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph counties and will no longer include Van Buren County.

Looking up

Proos said he has talked to hundreds of people on their doorsteps “who are clearly not out of the woods. Not every family feels like they are back to where they were. Not every family feels they are in the jobs they absolutely want. But as the economy improves, they will be seeing the benefits.”

Proos said the state’s unemployment rate, at 7.2 percent, is half of what it was four years ago (while still ranked 47th in the nation).

Michigan leads the nation in manufacturing job growth and in the growth of personal income, he said.

He credits these improvements to a change in the business environment, including eliminating many regulations and replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate tax.

The reform has created a tax that is “consistent, fair and flat, with no special place for someone to hide,” he said.

The auto industry, aided by a federal bailout, continues to be a “major driver” in Michigan, Proos said. Michigan has seen rapid growth “in part because we had hit the bottom and had been bouncing along the bottom for many years.”

Proos said that the recovery hasn’t taken full effect for some businesses that are “just starting to reap the benefits of the tax changes that were made.”

Closing the skills gap

A lot of businesses are hanging out the “help wanted” sign but are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need. Proos said there are some 75,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the state.

Proos supports more career and technical education at the high school and post-secondary level and letting students know “that there is a job available today, and it’s not your grandfather’s dirty shop floor,” but a vocation for the future.

Proos defended Gov. Rick Snyder’s record on funding for K-12 education.

“What is clear is that there has been over $1 billion in new funding for schools since Snyder came into office,” Proos said.

Articles have pointed out that much of that increase has gone toward shoring up the teachers’ retirement system.

Proos called that “living up to our obligations to those who have taught our children in the past.”

“As our economy improves, there isn’t a doubt that we should find a way to put more money into our classrooms,” Proos said.

Another area that needs a large infusion is the state’s roads, Proos said.

He has heard estimates that range from $800 million a year up to $2 billion a year are needed, and he isn’t sure which figures are accurate.

“What I do know is that additional funding for roads is necessary to manage the safety and security of the goods and services and the people being transported down our roadways.”

The first thing that needs to happen, Proos said, is to assure taxpayers that every dollar they pay at the pump in gas taxes, that is not constitutionally obligated for other areas, goes into roads. He noted that about two-thirds of the 6 percent sales tax on gas goes to schools and local governments.

Making sure that money comes off the top of a taxes for roads would guarantee the federal matching funds of between $400 million and $500 million a year, Proos said.

He does not support an increase in vehicle registration fees to fund road repairs because that would hit residents on fixed incomes, and small businesses and farms that would pay more for every vehicle they use.

Proos voted against an increase in the state’s minimum wage, believing that the cost to businesses would be passed along to consumers.

He did support right-to-work legislation that allows employees to choose whether to belong to a union and support it with their dues.

“Freedom to work is a step in the right direction to changing the image of Michigan nationally and internationally as a place welcoming to business,” Proos said.

Stopping meth

Legislative initiatives supported by Proos include the creation of the NPLEX system that allows pharmacies to keep track of the sale of ingredients used in methamphetamine, and to stop sales to people over the limit.

Law enforcement agencies have told Proos that this has stopped the sale of 3 million grams of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and allowed them to investigate where these ingredients are being sought in large quantities.

Proos launched the “Swift and Sure” sanctions for people on probation, with immediate jail time for those who fail random drug tests.

Berrien County Judge Sterling Schrock, who oversees the “Swift and Sure” program here, told Proos that the rate of probationers failing drug tests has fallen from 71 to 4 percent.

“A decrease in crime in our communities means less victims and less costs in the community, while changing people’s lives,” Proos said.

Proos said meeting and listening to constituents is the most important part of his job, and his office has handled 12,000 cases for citizens in four years.

That has included explaining tax law changes to local school administrators, and helping businesses including the new Greenbush Brewery in Sawyer and the rebuilt Stray Dog in New Buffalo obtain liquor licenses.

“If folks know their voice has been heard and they know that I have listened to their thoughts and concerns and considerations, I think they have a better chance to feel as though their government has been responsive, even if it’s not in agreement with their position,” Proos said.

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Make Sure to Vote – It’s the Foundation of our Nation

VoteAmerica was founded on the revolutionary idea that our government doesn’t give us power; our government only has the power that we, the people, choose to give it.

Our rights are endowed upon us by our Creator, and key to these is the right to vote. This freedom to choose or reject our leaders makes us the beacon of liberty in the world. People in countries worldwide have fought and continue to fight for what many of us take for granted.

I encourage all citizens to exercise their voice by getting out to vote. While voter turnout nationwide remains low, I am proud that Southwest Michigan residents take voting to heart and turn out to participate in our democratic republic. Every vote matters and sometimes a single vote can make all the difference.

I would also urge you to learn as much as you can about the candidates and the issues. Our state and nation continue to take on big issues and we need effective leaders who are willing to stand up for their communities.

This August, voters are being asked to weigh in on a statewide ballot proposal that would eliminate the personal property tax (PPT) businesses pay on equipment or machinery and dedicate a portion of the state’s current use tax to local municipalities and school districts that rely on the PPT to ensure they are held harmless.

For more information about Proposal 1, including the actual ballot language, residents may visit my website at www.SenatorJohnProos.com and click on the Proposal 1 graphic.

If you do not know where you’re supposed to go to vote, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at: www.michigan.gov/vote. Enter your first and last name, date of birth and residential ZIP code, and the website will give you the address and a map of your polling location.

For voters who cannot attend the polls on Aug. 5, the website also includes information about absentee voting.

Voters in Berrien County may also get their polling location information by contacting the county clerk’s office at 269-983-7111 ext. 8264 or by email at: elections@berriencounty.org. Voters in Cass County should contact 269-445-4464.

Please exercise your constitutional right to vote. Residents who want a copy of our Michigan or U.S. constitutions for their own use or to help teach your children about our democratic republic, please contact my office at 1-517-373-6960 or via email at: SenJProos@senate.michigan.gov.

Balanced Budget Amendment is Simple Common Sense

ChamberThe national debt is $17.1 trillion, or more than $54,000 per person. It is increasing by more than $2.6 billion per day and is expected to equal the country’s total annual economic output in 25 years.

Yet, even with America facing a $750 billion deficit in 2014, the federal government shut down this year because Washington leaders refused to stop spending money we don’t have.

That is why the Michigan Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution V to officially petition Congress to take the necessary steps toward passing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nineteen states have already approved the resolution. Once adopted by 15 more states, it becomes binding on Congress.

A balanced budget amendment would force Congress to cut up the national credit card, spend tax dollars more efficiently and hopefully begin reducing the nation’s debt burden.

I co-sponsored the resolution because it’s about time the federal government did what Southwest Michigan families and job providers do every month: live within their means. Michigan has a balanced budget because we followed the example of our families and made the tough choices needed to make ends meet; so should Congress.

Another way for Michigan to ensure fiscal responsibility would be to implement a two-year state budget.

I sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 4 to have us do two-year budgeting because it gives schools and local governments the budgetary certainty they need and allows lawmakers to focus more time on improving the economy and reducing spending.

In the end, both these measures are about putting some common sense into federal and state budgeting.

State Tax Dollars Should Stay in Michigan to Support Michigan Jobs

WorkersMichigan spends more than $30 billion annually on goods and services, and using state businesses to meet our needs can improve efficient use of taxpayer dollars, boost our economy and create jobs.

That is why I co-sponsored a bill to give Michigan businesses a priority for state contracts when possible.

It’s a way to thank those who stuck it out during tough times. Most importantly, it simply makes sense.

Senate Bill 517 mirrors the “Buy Indiana Initiative” that gave a preference of up to 5 percent to Indiana-based businesses.

As we work hard to continue Michigan’s turnaround, we must support our home team. Michigan-based businesses and the workers they employ pay taxes help that support vital services like education and public safety.

We owe it to all Michigan residents that we remain responsible and efficient with their tax dollars. That includes ensuring our Michigan tax dollars first go to support Michigan companies and Michigan jobs.

The 2013 Pure Michigan Travel Guide illustrates the need for a state preference. An Iowa firm won the contract to put together the guide’s three seasonal issues, even though a Michigan-based company’s bid was $300,000 less.

I strongly support Pure Michigan because it helps attract jobs and tourists to our state. That’s why I’m so disappointed that a Michigan company and its workers were not picked to design the state’s travel guide when their bid would have actually saved the state money.

Many businesses and organizations have pledged to Buy Michigan. The state should do the same.

Some Lawmakers Wonder Why It’s Necessary for Michigan to be 1 of Only 4 State with True Full-Time Legislature

By Kathleen Gray

The Detroit Free Press

ChamberEighty-one days.

That was the total number of days Michigan’s full-time Legislature worked in Lansing in 2012. From mid-June through the last week of November, when many members of the House of Representatives were campaigning for re-election, they put in a whopping 10 days of work in the state capital.

They then went on a three-week lame-duck binge, passing 282 bills, including controversial ones dealing with the right-to-work law, taxes, abortion rights and gun control. In 2011, they were in session 100 days, taking the entire months of July and August off, along with two-week breaks in the spring, November and December. This year, the House schedule includes one day of work in each of July and August, a two-week spring break, and two weeks off in both November and December. The Senate schedule for the year is updated only through June, but also includes a two-week spring break.

Nationally, the average full-time employee, who gets three weeks of vacation and the standard six holiday days off, works 239 days each year. A part-time worker, who generally works 20 hours a week, puts in 130 days a year.

“Michigan is one of only 10 states that has some sort of full-time legislative session and we’re really only one of four states that are truly in a full-time session,” said state Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph. “If the other 40 states can do it in a part-time fashion, there’s no reason why we can’t.”

Proos has introduced a bill in the Senate that would let voters decide whether the Legislature should become part-time, working 90 days of the year. State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, plans to introduce similar legislation in the House, including cutting the $71,685 annual salary by 75%.

“I think we can get our work done in 90 days,” he said. “Our major task is the budget, and we got that done early the past two years.”

Other lawmakers say it’s unfair to judge their time on the job strictly by the days they spend in Lansing. They host coffee hours with constituents back home, attend local meetings, give speeches and prepare for the upcoming legislative debates back at the Capitol.

The trick to getting a part-time Legislature will be getting their legislative colleagues on their side, and that appears to be a long shot. Even Gov. Rick Snyder said last week he doesn’t support changing to a part-time Legislature.

Of the top 10 states in population, four — California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York — have true, full-time Legislatures. Another three in the top 10 in population have semi-full-time legislatures that generally don’t meet throughout the year.

And places like Texas, the second-largest state in the nation, and smaller counterparts such as Montana, Nevada and North Dakota, meet every other year. Their pay ranges from $82.64 a day in Montana to $7,200 a year in Texas.

Most of the other Midwestern states surrounding Michigan — Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois — have some form of a full-time Legislature.

Indiana has operated with a part-time Legislature since the 1800s, and only switched from an every-other-year to an annual legislative session in the 1970s. Legislators are paid $22,616 a year, and they get a $152 per diem payment for each day they’re in session.

“It is a challenge to balance the work load, a career and respond to the flexibility necessary for the job,” said Indiana Senate Majority Floor Leader Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.

Finding candidates who can juggle a career and the three- to four-month legislative calendar can be difficult, said Hershman, who owns a consulting business with his wife. But there are benefits as well.

“The strict nature of the deadlines lead to compromises and easier resolution of problems,” he said. “And it forces us to prioritize: Things that are very pressing always rise to the top.”

Iowa also operates with a part-time Legislature, working up to 110 days a year and paying the lawmakers $25,000 a year, plus a $132 per day stipend during session.

If an emergency arises in the part-time Legislature states, the governor can call the House and Senate back into session. But that’s a rare occurrence, said Chief Clerk of the Iowa Legislature Carmine Boal. Since 1964, the Legislature has been called back to work 14 times.

“It’s not a given by any means, and is avoided at all costs,” she said. “It costs the taxpayers money.”

And it costs the legislators, too. When they’re called back to Des Moines for emergency session, they’re not paid a per diem and must pick up their own expenses for food and lodging.

Michigan legislators’ status as full-timers has not gone unchallenged. Bills have been introduced on an almost annual basis. And ballot proposals have been tried, but failed.

Henry Woloson, a Clarkston attorney and financial adviser, was part of a group that tried unsuccessfully in 2008 to get enough petition signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

“This is an issue that will never be taken up by the Legislature,” he said. “They have no incentive to do it.”

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It will save money, though that’s not necessarily the main concern, Woloson said. Even if legislative pay was cut in half and the roughly 700 Senate and House staffers pared back, the $116-million 2013 legislative budget represents a fraction of the state’s overall $7.5-billion general-fund budget.

“This is more about good government; making it more efficient, accountable and transparent,” he said. “There is no reason why we can’t have members working part-time in Lansing and then return to their communities to interface with the people.”

But that time in the community — speaking with groups, meeting with constituents and local elected officials and learning about upcoming bills — makes what looks like a part-time job a full-time endeavor, said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

“The governor likes to talk about the state as being a customer service window, and representatives and senators end up being that window for customer service,” he said. “We’re the closest to the constituents of this state, and that’s important to consider, too.”

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said it would be difficult to find people who would be able to take that time away from their careers for three months or so in the Legislature.

“I don’t think that we want to end up in a situation where the only people who are able to serve are multimillionaires,” he said. “But we’re always open to talk about shrinking government and making it more efficient.”

Snyder said last week that he doesn’t think it’s the right time for a part-time Legislature.

Speaking to the Brighton Chamber of Commerce, he said: “I’m asking them to do enough work where we need them there full-time. For the next two to three years, as we continue on a path of reinvention, we just need to work really hard.”

Lansing political consultant Craig Ruff said he worries that while legislators are back in their district for extended periods of time that the governor, staff and lobbyists can act without much oversight.

“I worry about that shift in power,” he said. “And the other thing is that constituent services have to go on whether a legislator is sitting at a desk in the Capitol or at home.”

Even backers of a part-time Legislature realize their quest is a long shot.

“This is the third time I’ve introduced this, and I’ve never gotten much traction,” McMillin said.

In fact, the bill has never even gotten a hearing in committee.

Proos acknowledged that his bill is far from a slam dunk.

“I know there is a difference of opinion on this and some of my colleagues will have plenty to say about it,” he said. “But this is a reform that makes good common sense. We’re having to find savings and solutions to problems on a daily basis.”

Proos Says Snyder Deserves Credit for Michigan’s Comeback

By Mike Arney

WSJM – Radio

Concussion Bill SigningFor the first half hour of Governor Snyder’s third State of the State address, he looked back on the progress the state has made over his time in office before launching into his 2013 goals. State Senator John Proos says Snyder can take a lot of credit for where the state is compared to what the Republican governor inherited.

Proos said in terms of Snyder’s top priority of coming up with more money for roads, there needs to be a bi-partisan solution. The governor has reportedly been shopping his plan to legislative Democrats to get their backing in the event he doesn’t have enough Republican votes to increase the amount of money we pay to register our vehicles, among other ideas. Proos says along with repairing the roads, US 31 needs to be finished, as southwest Michigan has waited long enough.

Merry Chirstmas to All!

I would like to wish each of you a Merry Christmas. I hope you all are able to spend the holidays with family and friends as you look forward to a new year full of possibilities.  I am truly blessed to be able to gather with my family, whose love and support gives me the strength to make the tough decisions to build a better Michigan.

Looking back at 2012, I am proud of what we accomplished to continue Michigan’s positive momentum toward recovery and prosperity.

As a result of our proactive approach, we have more jobs, a better economic outlook and a more fiscally sound budget than when I took office nearly two years ago.

My focus continues to be identifying and enacting innovative ideas to give all Michigan residents more opportunities and more freedom.

This year these solutions included enhancing education options and support, standing up for small business job providers, helping our farmers and giving all Michigan workers the freedom to choose. I am ready to start 2013 rechargedwith positive energy to build upon our accomplishments of more jobs and renewed liberty for everyone in Southwest Michigan.

This holiday season, I encourage you to send a letter of support and thanks to the men and women serving our country overseas who cannot be with their families for Christmas. It is a simple way to make their holiday a little brighter. You may mail your letters to:

Blue Star Mothers;
P.O.Box 76
Stevensville, MI 49127.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, and have a happy and healthy New Year. God Bless.