First Breakfast with Legislators – find out what you missed!

The Chamber held its first Breakfast with Legislators of 2017 on February 27. It has become a tradition to kickoff of the series at The Rapid and we are grateful for their continued sponsorship of the February breakfast.

These events are an important opportunity to engage lawmakers with the business community and there was a lot to discuss – including the previous week’s effort by the State House to roll back the income tax.

The hot topic of the meeting was the failed voted on an income tax reduction from 4.25% to 3.9% pushed for in the State House by Speaker Tom Leonard. House lawmakers in attendance voted both for and against the measure which was voted down 52-55.

March_BWL_RoomWhile some may have expected fireworks, lawmakers on both sides were not that far apart. Case in point: Representative Rob VerHeulen and Representative Chris Afendoulis.

VerHeulen voted for the measure after working to lessen the impact on the budget.

“I had concerns with the original bill. I think taking it to zero without a plan to replace it would jeopardize our ability to provide essential state services,” said VerHeulen, R-Walker. “But I support it going to 3.9%. This will ensure that we will not jeopardize our constitutional mandate to balance the budget. I’ve always been motivated to stretch on behalf of the taxpayers.”

Representative Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, opposed the measure but indicated how close he was to those that voted for it. He shared VerHeulen’s concern about the impact the cut would have on the ability of the state to fund critical priorities like roads, talent investment and pay down long-term debt saying.

“This plan will jeopardize our state’s bond rating and will create a structural deficit in the general fund of over $2 billion by 2022,” he said.

Other House members at the breakfast weighed in including Representatives Tommy Brann, Holly Hughes, and Steve Johnson. Ultimately, the accelerated process, coupled with not simultaneously putting forth what programs would be cut to keep the budget balanced led to the bill’s defeat.

The aftermath of the vote will likely shade policy-making in Lansing over the short term while the House works to continue to move Michigan forward.

March_BWL_PanelA question was posed to State Senators Peter MacGregor and Tonya Schuitmaker on the impact President Trump’s budget priorities would have on the State’s budget.

The Senators pointed out that they can’t build a budget on what may happen and will continue to work to have a budget passed by June 1. That being said, they anticipate having to come back later in the year if the federal government moves to block or grant Medicaid to the states or requires state matching dollars for infrastructure projects.

Discussion also focused on: the Gordie Howe International Bridge (going forward), the Soo Locks (which needs the federal government to step up with dollars and Chamber staff is headed to DC to lobby for it), a possible sales tax on services (not going anywhere), and redistricting and election law changes.

It was also mentioned at the breakfast that Grand Rapids has made the list (89) of top 100 US cities for congestion and the cost. A few years ago, some supposed that the drop-off in vehicles miles traveled was a sign of younger people opting for multiple modes. We now know it was tightly tied to the economic downturn.

People are driving more than ever. Witness the I-96/I-196 lane merge any morning or evening.

March_BWL_AudienceThere is a need for an all-of-the-above solution to mobility – strong public transportation like The Rapid; transportation network companies (ex. Uber and Lyft); reliable transit and rail, forward thinking and preparation for connected and automated vehicles; and an understanding that most of us will choose our personal vehicle for many years to come.

That being said, downtown parking has been highlighted as a hindrance to member growth and the Chamber is working on a set of short- and long-term recommendations with the City of Grand Rapids to advance solutions.

Our relentless, member-driven advocacy supports businesses of all sizes and types. If you have never been to one of these breakfasts, give it a try! Hear from those that represent you and make your voice heard. And if you have thoughts on these topics or others, let us know!

Questions? Contact Andy Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs at 616.771.0335 or