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    February 26th I had the chance to interview Representative Joel Sheltrown, a Democrat from the 103rd legislative district in Michigan. Representative Sheltrown is the chairman of the Tourism, Outdoor Recreation, and Natural Resources committee in the Michigan House of Representatives, and was gracious enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with me, answering some questions. Below is the complete transcribed interview. His answer to the third question is particularly revealing:

    .

    Have you had a chance to look at Governor Granholm's proposed budget?

    Not in any detail at all, I haven't. I'm probably the second down on the feeding tube to look at it. The appropriations people will take the first look at it, I imagine probably all of them have done that, they were meeting the other day. I will tell you this, George Cushingberry, the chair of appropriations, does not agree with the budget as presented. And the way it works with the legislature is that the governor proposes it, we dispose of it. We have to be in agreement with the budget that she's brought forth. There are some big problems with that budget that don't make sense to me, and I'm not happy with either.

    Are there any specific problems that you see, that are particularly troubling to you?

    Well, we just passed the toughest graduation requirements in the nation without pathways out for students who have problems with algrebra or other advanced classes that they have problems with. Yet we have cut after school programs to teach them and tutor them in the high math skills areas. You know, you giveth and you taketh, and there are other specific examples in the budget that I'm not happy with. Generally speaking, there are some programs in northern Michigan, like Michigan State extension or the agriculture experimental stations that are in danger of being axed, there are some particularly big cuts in Michigan State extension. Those are programs that are very important for Northern Michigan, and I will probably be at odds with those programs being cut. We always have the health department issue too. Our health departments are under funded according to the mandate the legislature has put on them, but we've never come up with the money to do these programs, this is a constant battle every year. But on the other side of the coin, we don't have those funds, and there's been a decrease in revenue, so we have to make smarter choices, and I think we're going to be doing some serious reforms in order to reflect the situation we're in. The governor has proposed combining some of these departments, and I think they can be effectively combined. She has talked about the possibility, and there are rumors of the DNR and DEQ being combined together. I have 3 concerns [with that]. First, it needs to save money. Second, we need to have oversight, somehow we need to get back to oversight of these departments. Finally, third there needs to be an attitude adjustment in Lansing by all departments, that there's an economic price that is paid from these decisions that are being made, we have to weight that out and give consideration to it. The number one priority of the legislature should be jobs, and how can we help industry to create them. That should be our #1 focus, because that's what it all boils down to, because without jobs there's no revenue, without revenue there's no budget.

    What do you see as your role in the budget process? Do you see yourself as perhaps taking an active role in the budget debate, or are you maybe going to concentrate on more specific programs?

    As I said, I'm in policy, so I won't be as active as those in appropriations. But I do watch specifically my district and how these cuts will affect it, or industries I care about like natural resources. I'll be watching tourism issues, specifically. I'll be watching natural resources issues, specifically. I'm the point person for Wolverine Power's power plant clean coal burning power plant in Rogers City. That's an extremely important development up there, and we need those jobs. I'll be watching the DEQ's budget, to see if they're receptive to approving that plant. If it is, they will probably have less problems with me. That's old school, but we need those jobs, and that's a billion plus project in northern Michigan, based on renewables. We need to have a bridge between the old technology and the new technology, alternative fuels. The clean burning coal plants, especially the one in Rogers City, which will bring some renewables also, that's the bridge we need.

    Specifically, in my areas, I know the DNR needs money, they specifically said so in a meeting yesterday, they wanted to know if I would ever support a fee increase. I have a proposal right now, which is a trust fund proposal, concerning the 2/3rds of the money that we normally bank, by constitution, of all our oil and gas revenues off state land, and we spend 1/3. That 1/3 spent has to be spent for purchase of land, and that small amount for development of land. Times have changed, and we have to change the way we think in the state. The trust fund has worked great over the years, but if you ask anyone in the state how much land is enough for the state to own, nobody has that answer. Right now we can't pay payment in lieu of taxes, we don't have the funds to do that half the time, there's a battle there, so we don't have the money to manage what we do that. I think it's time to do something different. That would be to take 50 percent bank on that trust fund, until it gets up to the 500 million, and spend the other 50%. 25% would be trust fund projects like we spend now, the other 25% would be specifically earmarked for habitat improvements for wild dear and wild game. We can have programs to bring back pheasant hunting in Michigan. Fish stocking, we need to get back into producing fish hatcheries, stocking up more and more fish, and build up our resources. The beauty of that is that it has no impact on our budget at all, as far as spending, because it's coming off oil and gas revenues, we are just changing how much we're banking. In today's economy, people say you're banking 50%, you're doing pretty darn good. Right now we're banking 2/3rds, and that's not fiscally responsible. It's like banking 2/3rds, and letting your kids starve to death, it's just not responsible and we need to change. Once the hunters and the fisherman see the increase in the recreational and hunting/fishing opportunities in Michigan, and how great it is, they certainly would support fee increases at that point. But at this point, it's been degraded, and they're not willing to support it. This program would put money where it needs to be done, and would help northern Michigan greatly. At the same time it would bring tax dollars in our coffers, and beyond that doesn't cost the taxpayers whatsoever. So I think it's a great proposal, and that's what I'll try to be doing.

    Everything that I'm doing is trying to center around job creation. I do have the educational piece I'm working on, the duel pathway diploma, which is major policy, that doesn't really have budget implications as we know it, but it is extremely important that we are reasonable about. I'll use a Dick Voll quote, I stole it from him, because I like it, "I support the 3rs too, that's rigor, relevancy, and reality." And reality is that only 20% of our students are probably going to make decent engineers, and doctors. The other students have talents in other areas, and those are what we should explore, those talents in other areas. We should support them, it's a cooperative effort, and there needs to be an attitude adjustment in the educational community, that not everyone needs to have a 4 year degree, and not everyone needs to be proficient in high level math skills. I was talking to George Carr, he's a lobbyist there, and he agrees with me wholeheartedly with what I'm doing. I told him, you know the average age of a plumber is 57 years old, and they make a pretty good living. He said my plumber flies around in a helicopter, that's more than my house. I said you need to get a new plumber. That's some of the information we're working on

    After 2007, are you concerned about a protracted budget battle, or do you think it will go a little smoother this time, because of the previous experiences Michigan's had?

    We are going to have one heck of a battle coming up. This is going to be the mother of all battles. We are going to have a monumental battle down in Lansing, because we have the stimulus package, those funds coming in, and they have to go through the appropriations process. There are over 18,000 projects submitted to the state by various municipalities, and I think its 59 billion, obviously we cannot fund all these projects, many are not shovel ready, some of them shouldn't be funded I'm sure. We need to fund road projects, sewer plants, those kinds of things. Infrastructure is what we need to fund, something that we get the jobs created back, that is what I am looking at. I probably won't be successful, but I don't want it to be used just to plug some holes in the budget, because these are one time fixes. We need to face the fact that the #1 job of every legislator, 110 in the house at least, because we seem to be the ones coming up with any good policy. We need to focus strictly, well I wouldn't say strictly, a great deal of effort on job creation.

    Any other projects that you are hoping to put in the 103rd district, especially with the transportation stimulus money?

    We're lobbying to straighten out some of our roads. I would like some of this money to go to the local road commissions, they are under pressure, and they are going to put it to work. I had a road project up in Ogemaw that I put together, and nobody gave me a chance in heck of getting it passed. It was 6 bills, 20 years, that's a lot of money, but every road up in Ogemaw township was going to get paved with that money, and I passed it with 60% of the vote. I got more thank you notes than just about anything on that road project. People really appreciate good, solid roads to drive on. I'm going to be doing a couple of areas, in the budget area. We need to reform the Act 51, some technicalities on primary roads and funding for that, certain funds can only be used for primary roads, and we need to change that to give more flexibility to local road commissions to use the money more efficiently rather than going on some formula that's probably outlived its use at this point. Those are some of the things we're working on.

    I love job creation, and a lot of it is policy that drives creation, like the clean burning coal plant in Rogers City. If we can get that approved, that would open the door for Bay City's plant to go through. People are really counting on having those jobs, because we've got people in some trades that only half of them are working. That's a scary situation, I don't want to wait for the state to get any worse off in unemployment before someone finally wakes up and says "we live in a different world," lets build these plants. Even if we believe the lofty projections of 45% alternative energy as a goal in 2025, that still leaves 55% of dirty coal that's producing the power here, and we can't have that. It only makes sense to get these plants online, use energy efficiency appliances, have programs to become more energy efficient, use alternative energy like wind turbines, have programs for that, I'm all for that. But you still have to look after the 55%, and you don't jump from all dirty coal to solar panels in one fell swoop, you have to have that transitional period, and that's what I'm working on, and those are all jobs.

    Are you hearing back from your constituents yet about the budget deficit, and the budget battle?

    No, you know, I am hearing from specific areas, like arts. They know that the budget process is what it is, the governor proposes it, and from past experience this is going to last a long time. I hope it doesn't, I hope it's resolved by July at least, we don't want to be dragging schools through this process any more like we did before. We need to get done what we can get done, what we can agree on, and get out as many of the budgets as we can. I just see a big fight coming because of the stimulus package, all this money coming through appropriations, there are going to be a number of people fighting for their own pet projects, and I'm fearful that's going to slow things down. I'm hopeful that we would stick to the spirit of the stimulus package, which is shovel ready job creation, and infrastructure, specific drives towards that industry. Those people are hurt, and if you give them the money to build roads, and fix the ones we have, specifically fix the ones we have, that should be the main focus speaking of transportation dollars, because our infrastructure is crumbling, and we need to get that fixed, so I'm hopeful that we get a lot of that. But you know there is a lot of money in there for clean water, so they're looking for better sewer plants, there are a number of municipalities, including one in my district, which is looking at putting in a new plant, they're shovel ready, they've got everything ready to go, they could use some help with that as well. It's very expensive putting in sewer plants, it's a 10 million plus project yet, at least that, I haven't seen the figures yet, it's probably more like 15 million, but I'm only estimating it.

    Thank you for your time Representative Sheltrown, and have a great day

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