State Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing) sent out the following newsletter Wednesday, March 1:
Creating and Assisting Urban Grocery Stores
Lack of access to grocery stores in downtowns and commercial corridors across Michigan has been well documented. This is a concern for both current and potential residents who may be considering moving into Lansing or another of our urban cores. When I talk to Lansing residents, I hear about the lack of convenient, close grocery stores. When we hear about the amenities that empty nesters or young professionals are seeking in an urban living setting, access to grocery stores is high on the list.
Access to fresh, healthy, affordable food at a convenient location does so much more than add to a checklist of amenities. When families have that access, it can increase the amount of healthy meals a family shares. It can contribute to better school outcomes as children go to school fueled by healthy meals that help them focus and succeed in a classroom. It can contribute to better health outcomes for our families by giving people an option to eat healthier and reducing the risk of developing diseases associated with poor diet, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Although people make individual decisions about their eating habits, these decisions are strongly shaped by their environment. Research shows that people in neighborhoods with a grocery store are more likely to meet the dietary recommendations for eating enough fruits and vegetables. The chances increase with more grocery store options. Finding ways to get more grocery stores into our cities makes sense for so many reasons.
In January, I introduced House Bill 4207 that directs at least 5 percent of existing community revitalization program dollars within the Michigan Strategic Fund toward developing and assisting grocery stores within our urban areas. This will not take away from other uses of the dollars. My conversations with stakeholders from the grocery sector have been very positive. There is a strong interest in creating these stores, and providing groceries to our dense neighborhoods and the corridors that border them. I think it’s clear that we need to help small businesses make the initial economics work to spur this reinvestment in our communities.
In Lansing, HB 4207 would help provide and assist needed grocery options in areas that currently lack grocery store options, as shown by the United States Department of Agriculture maps, such as the MLK Corridor in southwest Lansing, Michigan and Kalamazoo avenues on the eastside, along Grand River, and the Cedar corridor by Baker/Donora. It also could include vital dense areas such as the downtown, Saginaw corridor, Cedar corridor, Pennsylvania corridor, MLK corridor, and other commercial centers in and around our neighborhoods.
This bill will be up for a hearing in committee in mid-March. I will continue to work with stakeholders and my legislative colleagues to see movement on this bill soon. I’m optimistic that we can get this and other solutions through that could help Lansing and other Michigan cities in so many ways.
Income Tax cuts
The first bill introduced this year in the House was House Bill 4001, which, as introduced would have reduced the income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent effective Jan. 1, 2018, and further reduce the income tax by 0.1 percent annually until the income tax is eliminated. HB 4001 was voted out of the Tax Policy Committee by a 7-4 vote along party lines. This bill would have cost the state of Michigan billions of dollars, and I expressed my opposition. Luckily, it did not have the support to pass the House. On Feb. 22, it was amended to be a reduction from the current 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent over the next four years. That would have cost the state $1 billion. That version didn’t have the votes to pass either.
On Feb. 23, after waiting 12 hours on the House floor (at 1 a.m.), we received a new substitute. This new version would reduce the income tax from 4.25 percent to 4.15 percent in 2018, and 4.05 percent in 2019. Then it would continue to reduce by 0.1 percent any year that the budget stabilization fund has a balance of $1 billion or more, until it hit 3.9 percent.
This bill failed on a 52-55 vote. I continued to have several concerns with this bill and voted no. This would be a $1 billion cut to the state budget. This bill would have provided about $7 per month to middle-class families, but thousands of dollars to the wealthiest people. During debate, it was stated that two-thirds of cuts go to the wealthiest 20 percent of Michigan residents.
This income tax cut would result in many cuts to services that we count on. Cuts to the state general fund budget could include cuts to roads, cuts to revenue sharing (police and fire, sewer and water), not being able to pay for the needed infrastructure fixes, cuts to schools (K-12, universities and community colleges), and so many other necessary things for Michigan to remain competitive. The effect of these cuts would quickly eliminate any savings that people would see (tire and rim repairs from hitting potholes, for example, cost more than the average person would save each year).
I am supportive of granting tax relief to middle-class Michigan residents. I supported an amendment during legislative debate on this bill that would have allowed the income tax reduction only for people making less than $70,000 per year. That was defeated. I have also supported raising the personal income tax exemption, and introduced legislation to do this last session. That was never taken up. And I support creating tax credits for middle-class residents (many that were reduced or eliminated in 2011) such as a per-child tax deduction, dependent and child care tax credit, senior exemption, college affordability tax credit, Homestead Property Tax Credit expansion, Earned Income Tax Credit increase and others. Unfortunately, these options were defeated. I am happy this bill was defeated by the House of Representatives, and hope we can consider real tax relief for middle-class residents.
Gov. Snyder’s Executive Budget Recommendation
Gov. Rick Snyder released his budget recommendation on Feb. 8, and as I’ve been sorting through it and what it means for Lansing, a few things jump out. I am disappointed there was no money to reimburse people falsely accused of unemployment fraud by the automated system. Evidence suggests that more than 90 percent of the “fraud” cases where the automated system sent letters to more than 20,000 people were in fact legitimate unemployment claims. This resulted in millions of dollars paid back from people who can least afford it. The state needs to do what’s right and pay these people back. In better news, our K-12 schools will see a funding increase. Lansing Schools should see continued increases that help create more equity in school funding. There’s also less money for cyber schools. We know these schools have significantly lower costs compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools that have buildings and other expenses. More appropriate funding for cyber schools means more money available for our traditional public schools. I’m also pleased to see a funding increase of $11.3 million to improve staffing and services for the elderly and the disabled as well as money for programs supporting low-income families, like the “Heat and Eat” program. That being said, this is the start of the budget process, and a lot will change. The House Republicans will release a similar draft budget, as will the Senate, and negotiations will run through June when our budgets are typically wrapped up and passed.
State Representative Andy Schor
68th House District