The face-off between Republican Ken Horn and Democrat Bob Blaine for the 94th District State House of Representatives seat is significant for many reasons, but mainly because the winner will be presented with the formidable task of ushering in a new era for Saginaw County that must look beyond the standard industries that have historically fueled the job market for the area.
Ken Horn has served as a community volunteer and activist for two-and-a-half decades, currently serving as Vice-President of The Saginaw Community Foundation and overseeing 750 employees and a $150 million budget. He taught in the Frankenmuth & Bridgeport/Spaulding School district for two years and was a small business owner from 1988-2002. Horn has also served 14 years on the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners. "My history in the county is one of setting partisanship aside to get the job done for our residents, and I will continue to work towards that end as State Representative," he explains.
Bob Blaine has 19 years of public service to the community, working on the Swan Creek Township Board for eight years, the Saginaw County Road Commission for two years, and the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners for nine years. A fourth generation family farmer and a 31-year public school teacher, Blaine notes that "I was born and raised here, raised my family here, and care deeply for this community. I will fight to create a brighter future for my fellow residents.
Review: What are the three biggest priorities that need to be addressed in Michigan, not necessarily from a statewide perspective so much as how your involvement in Lansing could impact the 94th District?
Horn: Creating jobs, continuing our focus on premiere education, and public safety will be top priorities. To create jobs we need to support our county's top three industries:
… The Manufacturing Industry - I refuse to give up on manufacturing jobs for our skilled workers. Medical Device Manufacturing has enormous potential in the Saginaw Valley
… The Agricultural Industry must become more profitable, and alternative energies will be vital in preserving small Saginaw Valley farms
… The Tourism Industry - We need to make our small businesses just as welcome as the visitors to our county, and continue to build on one of Michigan's true strengths
Within the scope of creating a vibrant economy, we must continue to properly fund schools, and must reset our priorities to include hiring cops to keep our streets safe.
Blaine: The economy and jobs are my number one priority. We need to create good-paying jobs that pay salaries that can support our working families. And we need to create a more business-friendly environment to attract companies to our state. I fully support eliminating the Single Business Tax, and will work to find a more equitable alternative.
And we must prepare for the good-paying jobs of the future by ensuring that we have a highly educated workforce. I have a plan to give interest-free loans to students who earn degrees in high-tech fields. By doing so we can keep our best and brightest in Michigan and ensure that our economy remains strong well into the 21st century.
We also must work to stop the trashing of Michigan. Our state is a beautiful place to hunt, fish and enjoy the great outdoors. It shouldn't be a dumping ground for other people's trash. By attacking the economics of the trash trade, we can curb the importation of Canadian and out-of-state trash into Michigan and protect our state's natural heritage for generations to come.
I also have a plan to increase investment in alternative, renewable fuels like biodiesel and ethanol by giving significant and immediate tax breaks to businesses and individuals that produce and distribute these fuels. By increasing investment, we can cut the cost of gas for our consumers, break our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and boost our local economy.
Review: When discussing the direction education is going the biggest debate is over whether charter schools do a better job than public schools. Which do you favor and why? Similarly, do you favor moving to a 'merit' based system as opposed to the current tenured system to improve issues of educational performance?
Blaine: As a 31-year teacher in public schools, I know that our students receive a high-quality education at our public schools. I see, firsthand, our students grow and learn every day. Our public schools do an excellent job of educating our children and preparing them for the good-paying jobs of the future. The tougher curriculum standards that were signed into law this year will go even further in preparing our students to succeed.
As for charter schools, research has been mixed on whether they produce better outcomes and higher test scores for students than traditional public schools. There is no proof that charter schools are better at educating our students. In addition, charter schools are not required to meet all the criteria that public schools are required to meet - important criteria such as hiring certified teachers, providing open enrollment, complying with federal and state laws, and having strong oversight requirements for the authorizing agency and the State Board of Education.
On the issue of teachers' pay, I favor the current system, which rewards teachers for two of their most essential qualities - experience and knowledge. The merit-based system, on the other hand, pits teachers against one another and forces them to compete for limited salary resources.
The best teachers learn from their colleagues as they share their own knowledge and expertise. If teachers are put into situations in which they feel they have to out-do their colleagues in order to get raises, teachers will have no incentive to share teaching techniques. Teachers also can be encouraged to improve their professional development by offering financial incentives to those who pursue additional knowledge and training, such as achieving national certification or advanced degrees.
Horn: The 94th District is blessed with superb public and parochial schools. The district has one charter school, which happens to be sponsored by the public schools. Where there is an identified need, charter schools can be effective. Charter schools, however, are only superficially effective if our school boards and administrators are not allowed to compete fairly. Cost containment of health care and pension, and legacy issues are stifling our school district budgets.
My focus will be to inspire a passion for learning in our children. The current tenure system is successful here because teachers have the ability to inspire. I favor the idea of paying our best teachers the best pay, but worry that the merit pay system can be very subjective.
Parental support will continue to be the driving force for good schools. I will set a priority of spending 65% of all education dollars in the classroom setting. With that I will oppose Ballot Proposal 06-5 (k-16) because it demands absolutely no accountability in spending, as it locks in employee legacy costs.
Review: Michigan has been in a "one-state recession" for several years, while every other state - except those slammed by hurricanes - has experienced impressive growth. Only a handful of states levy all three of the following: a sales tax, a personal income tax, and a business tax. Each of these states are economic growth laggards. A movement is underway to eliminate the 'Single Business Tax' insofar as it is often cited as the worst business tax in the nation; its rate is very high and it is filled with perverse incentives (for example, employers who provide health insurance pay more tax). Yet, its elimination will draw $1.85 billion out of the general fund. How should the budgetary gap be replaced?
Horn: Yes, I favored the immediate elimination of the Single Business Tax. Currently, the SBT taxes jobs, and job's benefits, while it creates tax liabilities even in bankruptcy (i.e. Delphi and Northwest Airline). We need to restructure the business tax in this state to avoid penalizing companies for offering healthcare to their employees, and taxing them more for expanding their operations and creating new jobs. I look forward to a vigorous debate in the legislature on crafting a new business environment that will get Michigan's economy moving again.
Blaine: I fully support the elimination of the Single Business Tax. It should be replaced with a more equitable alternative that has a low rate and broad base that will benefit our businesses and promote growth. As the state representative for Saginaw County, I will roll up my sleeves and get to work finding an alternative that will not shift the burden to individuals and families. While we must be careful to make sure our tax climate is not overly burdensome, businesses must pay their fair share in taxes because money generated provides funding for many of the services the state provides, services like education and public safety.
Review: Recently Saginaw County enacted a controversial 'anti-smoking' ordinance. Additionally, there have been recent attempts in Lansing to enact legislation that would ban smoking in bars & restaurants throughout Michigan, even though in Saginaw County alone the Food & Beverage industry is the third biggest employer in the County. In states that have banned smoking in restaurants & bars, the industry has recorded substantial reductions in revenue. Are you in favor of these attempts to ban smoking statewide, or do you feel it is an encroachment on the property rights of business owners and the freedom of individual choice?
Blaine: This questions deals with two separate issues. First, Saginaw County's smoking ordinance deals specifically with smoking in the workplace. It protects workers who do not smoke from being exposed to secondhand smoke produced by co-workers. No worker should have to find another job or quit in order to avoid breathing in a co-workers' secondhand smoke. And, realistically, most workers don't have the option to do either of those things. When it comes to our workers' health, we cannot force people to expose themselves to hazardous pollutants like secondhand smoke. As a county commissioner, I voted in favor of giving employees in the workplace protection from other workers' smoke.
The second issue here is controlling smoke in restaurants and bars. I do not support a smoking ban in restaurants and bars. People who don't want to expose themselves to smoke in a restaurant or bar can choose to patronize only nonsmoking establishments. That's a choice they can make for themselves and their families.
Horn: As your readers are aware, I did not favor this local smoking ban, and I would not support a statewide mandate. This is a property rights issue, and should be left as a decision of the owner. My challenger voted for the workplace ban, but at a recent debate, I'm pleased to say that he now agrees with my position. And, if proponents view smoking is a true life and death health issue, as was described in the recent debate, they should call for a complete statewide ban on tobacco.
Currently, the health department is asking for restaurant fees to double and triple, because it can't reasonably maintain its current services, and it costs them $125/hour to respond to complaints. We have many challenges facing Michigan today, with regulatory burdens on job producing trade and commerce being near the top of the list. We need to back off of business fees and unenforceable rules, for a little while, and let the economy grow.
Review: What steps will you take to attract new business to Michigan and Saginaw County and reduce unemployment?
Horn: I would reduce the tax burden, eliminate job-killing regulations, and protect our industries from frivolous lawsuits. When our manufacturers, small hospitality businesses, and small farms can be profitable, job providers from around the world will again see as business friendly, and will feel welcome in Michigan. Great schools will attract skilled workers and professionals, and public safety and healthcare issues are vital to a prosperous community.
Starting and maintaining a small business is not easy, especially when compounded with local fees, permits and taxes, and increased state and federal tax demands.
At a meeting where my challenger voted to double and triple county business fees, a director of a non-profit complained about the new expense on top of an extraordinary 35% minimum wage hike, which my opponent also supported. Regulatory agencies are literally shutting down planned economic growth with rules and fees, and need to be reigned in.
Michigan needs to pull this wet blanket off of our job providers; we need true regulatory reform in concert with a reduction in the huge fee and tax burden on our resident business owners.
Blaine: We must have a highly educated workforce to attract businesses, and that means increasing investment in K-12 and higher education. We must create a more business-friendly climate that minimizes red tape, reduces business taxes, and protects workers and consumers. I fully support repealing the SBT, and will work to find a more equitable alternative. We must diversify our economy by investing in high-skill jobs in homeland security, alternative fuels, life sciences and high-tech automotive engineering.
Review: With Michigan and The Great Lakes bordering 95 percent of the fresh water in the United States, the issue of dioxin contamination in the Saginaw Valley has augmented the seriousness of the situation. Recently the Lone Tree Council discovered through the Freedom of Information Act that the dredging site approved by the Board of Commissioners may also be used to handle toxic levels of dioxin, even though there is no lining in this pit to prevent leaching, and the Commissioners approved the project with the understanding it would be used for nothing but sediments. What steps will you take to correct this situation?
Blaine: It is important to clarify what dredging materials will be placed in the pit: Only the dredging materials removed for the purpose of shipping up to the stone docks will be allowed. This site will not receive materials from any other up-stream cleanup - not now and not in the future. The dredging materials that will be placed in the pit have been approved by every state and federal agency that needs to give approval for this kind of project.
As a Saginaw County commissioner, I will make sure that the language defining this project is precise, clear and able to stand any legal reviews or challenges. As state representative, I will fight to make sure that state agencies are held accountable for following local policies.
Horn: On October 10, at a county services meeting, I made the motion to more clearly define the dredging site as being strictly for the dredge material as the commissioners originally approved. The people can, and should, feel confident that the site will remain clean and safe.
Having said that - I am furious at our state and federal agencies that are playing backroom politics, which incite false outrage in our community. Thanks to one state agency and the cozy relationship it has with extreme special interest groups, we the people will be forced to spend over $1,000,000 extra on the dredge site; leaving even the Army Corps of Engineers shaking their heads at the magnitude of our bureaucratically forced cost overruns.
Review: What steps can be taken to avoid the funding crisis with Medicare in Michigan?
Horn: The first step is for Congress to ensure that Medicare Funds are no longer used to prop up Medicaid, and Michigan needs to fight harder for healthcare reimbursements. Both programs need to have the tools to contain healthcare and prescription costs.
I believe that the Funds need to be invested more effectively, and I'd like to see more education and training of young workers to ensure that as our population ages, it is better prepared with retirement savings. Most importantly, the Federal government needs to set reasonable and consistent rules that seniors can understand, while they restore Medicare cuts to Michigan.
Blaine: We must ensure that our seniors who are living on fixed incomes have access to affordable health care and prescription medications. We must work to reduce the cost of health care in Michigan and ensure that every Michigan resident has access to affordable health care. More than 1.1 million people in our state lack health care insurance.
We can lower the cost of health care by allowing Michigan to join a bulk-buying program so our residents can get cheaper prescription drugs. We also can reimport prescription drugs from Canada, which drastically reduces their cost and saves our residents money.