Facing a crowd openly hostile to his support of proposed budget cuts and other measures that crack down on Michigan workers, seniors, and students, Michigan Senator Tom Casperson expressed his support for big business at a town hall meeting in Marquette yesterday evening. Casperson insisted that forcing corporations to pay more in taxes will hurt efforts rebuild the state’s economy.
Negaunee resident and Michigan Education Association UniServ Director for the area, Stuart Skauge, along with most of the packed audience, wasn’t buying it.
“I’ve got a question on that, why is it with the flat tax then – the 6% – that 95,000 businesses in this state won’t pay any state taxes for business – 95,000?” asked Skauge. “And then they’re going to take it away from the schools. Are you people idiots down there?”
Meghan McLeod, a teacher from Gwinn Middle School, says she makes $30,000 dollars a year and can’t afford more teacher cuts.
“I don’t want to have to, on my 25th birthday, move home with my parents,” said McLeod. “I just want to make it clear, I want a level playing field. And you said you took a 10% pay reduction, and you were okay with that because you can afford it. I can’t afford it.”
Casperson told McLeod he couldn’t argue with her that teachers should pay 20% of their insurance costs and suffer a 5% reduction in pay.
When a new member of the Ishpeming School Board asked Casperson if he would vote to cut funding for K-12 education Casperson quickly answered, “yes.”
“I don’t see how we get around not doing some kind of a cut,” said Casperson.
The audience was more than willing to offer a solution, with many shouting, “Tax the businesses!”
“I’m trying to find a way to bring Michigan back, so we have companies that want to come into this state and do business,” Casperson replied. “And that’s been a problem for probably the last ten years. It’s not all taxes either by the way; we’ve got some major problems with regulations.”
According to Casperson, Governor Rick Snyder proposed an across-the-board 6% corporate tax because between 2007 and 2008 business taxes were raised in Michigan, with a restructuring of the tax, along with a 22% surcharge.
“The results were pretty glaring,” said Casperson. “The point is there that we tried that and what ultimately happened was that the business community either struggles with it so they’re not hiring or they leave.”
“Where it gets really dicey and troublesome is how high we go with it before we become uncompetitive with the other states around us and then we can say, ‘oh well we balanced our budget, we don’t have to take any cuts because we passed it on to them.’ And then we end up with the same thing we’ve got and that’s lack of jobs.” said Casperson.
Margaret Comfort, a nurse from Michigamme, disagreed that corporations need a better deal.
“There are huge mega corporations that stand to make billions … but not pay much money if they make a big mess,” said Comfort. “One such corporation [is] Dow Chemical.” Comfort said that Michigan follow in the steps of Australia and require the mining industry to pay more in taxes.
Casperson suggested one of the problems is workers’ unions are preventing companies from operating in the state.
“The Free Press, they went down and looked at the Toyota plant, this isn’t my numbers, it’s their numbers,” said Casperson. “The auto workers down there were hired and paid $30 dollars an hour; the [United Auto Workers] in Michigan $28.50.”
However, an Associated Press study found that, while Toyota paid their Kentucky workers slightly more in wages than unionized workers in Detroit made, with both wages and benefits considered General Motors was paying its unionized workforce $69/hour, while the Toyota plant only had to pay $48/hour. Others suggest that foreign manufacturers, like Toyota, also have incentives to pay their workers more in order to prevent them from unionizing.
“That concerns me only because I want [companies] to be here in Michigan. I want us to be competitive and get those jobs up here.”
Casperson took an even harder line on unemployed workers.
“Michigan’s the first state in the union to reduce unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks,” said Marquette attorney Kevin Koch. “Would you be willing to
reverse that legislation? And, if not, why not?”
“No,” Casperson replied. “We’re all in big trouble right now, because the debt owed to unemployment is going through the roof right now. I guess I’m going to ask, how long do we stay on unemployment before it becomes a social service program?”
Toward the end of a long and raucous meeting, local resident Paul Olson left Casperson with a warning:
“Kicking those two hornets nests, organized labor and teachers, has been a critical error, my advice to you, person to person, is anything you can do to distance yourself [from other Republicans] I highly recommend it. They’re [unions and teachers] never going to stop, you have frightened them, you got them scared for their lives, they’re the most intelligent, best organized they are never going to stop until every last one of you guys is out of office.”