MPN: Can you tell me what you have to do with the budget?
Kurt: I work in the budget office in the public information officer. I’m the sort of the person who communicates about the budget with the public
MPN: Yes I saw that. I also saw you were involved with driving highway safety, have worked for a nonprofit and also were involved with the state police. I was wondering how those experiences connects with the budget.
Kurt: Those were my previous work experiences before the budget office and in those jobs I was also the public information officer, so the tie there is really the communications aspect of the work
MPN: I’ve read that you have given out official statements from the state regarding computer failures, so you focus more on communications than specifically the budget, is that correct?
Kurt: The department is of technology, management, and budget so this department not only deals with the state budget office we deal with technology for state government we also handle all the administrative functions
MPN: I saw you were involved with telling the press about a state appealing which requires state employees to put 3% of their pay toward post retirement and health care.
MPN: Now why would the state want to require this?
Kurt: To address our long term liabilities with regards to retire health care. We currently have 14.5 billion dollar liability in terms of retiree health care. It’s a liability the state can’t keep up with so that 3% being withheld from state employee pay checks is used to offset that liability. We are working with the legislature to find a different solution in a reform that will help us deal with that liability.
MPN: I also saw recently the retirement benefits for Michigan legislature had been proposed to be cut can you tell me anything about that?
Kurt: They voted recently to cut those benefits for future legislatures, not for those who are existing, so for those who come in the future -- if they don’t get at least 6 years -- they will not be eligible for those benefits.
MPN: Being a part of the budget do you think that is going to have a big effect or is that more a symbolic thing?
Kurt: The legislature’s budget is a little bit different animal than the state budget but I would not call it symbolic. It will definitely have an effect and save money for the legislature
MPN: Can you tell me some other major issues with the budget right now?
Kurt: Sure. I think probably one of the biggest is, well, obviously education is always one of the biggest pieces of the budget...representing almost 60% of the budget so obviously that’s a huge priority for the budget and will continue to be a priority as we work on 2013. But again we are dealing with a state who has got some physical realties that we are forced to deal with so we will continue to try and fund education and we will continue to focus on the 16 different state departments that do the various work for the government so you’ve got the police, and law enforcement will certainly remain a priority. Something that may be of interest to you may be the fact we are currently in negotiations with state employee unions about health care costs, so definitely that will probably be in the news pretty routinely in the next couple weeks. And again, that centers around the fact that the state cannot continue to pay for health care benefits for states employees--the costs are exceeding our ability to pay for them.
MPN: I actually wrote an article about the right to work is that still being debated.
Kurt: It is not on the governor’s radar, but it is on the radar of some legislators. I know there are some legislators across the street who want to push that issue, but it is not an issue that is being pushed in our budget or in our administration.
MPN: So not to major?
MPN: Can you explain what impact that would have on the state budget if that was to be passed?
Kurt: I do not have an analysis at this point with regards to total saving. You would probably be better of talking to one of the legislatures about that one who is pushing that agenda.
MPN: Can you tell me anything else about state employee’s pension plans? I’ve read a lot about it but I don’t entirely understand it.
Kurt: Well, when it comes to state employees, if you were hired before 1997 you are eligible to receive a package at no cost. So, currently state employees hired before 1997 are eligible to receive a pension where they do not have anything taken out of their pay check to pay for that. For employees hired after 1997, they have a defined contribution plan or what a lot of people refer to as a 401K. That’s where they invest some of their money into a mutual fund of their choosing and then the state matches up to 10% especially up to 4% where the state pays 3% the state will match up to that so a total of 10% of a state employees pay check could go to that 401K. That’s sort of the two different programs we have out there for state employee retirement.
MPN: Now how do those compare to other states?
Kurt: Different states do it differently. A lot of states are trying to get away from pension plans because it is a very costly proposition many states don’t have it fully funded so it’s a liability they can’t keep up with so most states are looking to go towards a 401K kind of a plan. Michigan is one of only two states in the country to have done this so we are ahead of the curve.
MPN: You’ve been working in your current job for longer than Snyder has been governor correct?
Kurt: I have, yes.
MPN: So can you tell me the changes you’ve seen between the governors?
Kurt: The administrative changes as a result of the change in governor?
Kurt: Well, the budget office is new to me so the first time I’ve done budget is under the Snyder Administration. I use to work in the DTE focusing on those administrative functions prior to the Snyder administration so I can only really tell you the changes with regards to IT. But there has been continued support from Governor Snyder for a basically centralized IT model we are one of the only states now in the country with a centralized IT model. All of our IT professionals work for one department, and work to support the different departments of government. Most of the other states have separate IT functions within each separate department. From the IT standpoint it has been sort of business as usual.
MPN: Now is Michigan is ahead or behind then since it is the only state?Kurt: Definitely ahead. We were just awarded 6 awards from a national association and we continue to be the most recognized state when it comes to IT.