GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Calling Michigan "the comeback state," Gov. Rick Snyder answered questions from a studio audience and from social media submissions at the WOOD TV8 studios about all things Michigan hours after he delivered his budget proposals.
Snyder on Thursday unveiled his proposed $50.9 billion budget to lawmakers who sit on budget committees. Snyder says he supports expanding Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of residents without insurance under the Obama administration's health care overhaul.
A major piece of the budget includes a call to raise the state gasoline tax from 19 cents a gallon to 33 cents and increase vehicle registration fees to fix ailing roads and bridges.
Snyder proposed giving public schools, universities and community colleges 2% more funding in the next school year.
==Watch the full town hall forum above==
The first question was about improving our roads and the proposed plans involving raising fees, taxes, or a combination to raise the money needed to pay for the roads.
"It's us for us," Snyder said. "That's why we've done the proposal the way we have. The more you use the roads, the more you pay. If you drive a lot, use the roads a lot, you'll pay more."
Many viewers asked the governor via the WOOD TV8 Facebook page why toll roads aren't an option. Snyder told 24 Hour News 8 they aren't feasible in Michigan. As a condition to get federal dollars, states can't turn the freeways into toll roads.
Priority Health's Wayne Wilson asked about the proposed expansion of Medicaid. The governor said the expansion "gets back to the fundamentals of cost, care and access. How do we get people into a primary care relationship rather than the ER? ... The quality of their life goes up dramatically."
The governor said the Affordable Care Act was not the best health option for the country because it "doesn't address wellness and primary care. But it's the law of the land. My view is the best answer is to do the health exchange well, let's do it right."
If done correctly, the plan could save Michigan about $200 million a year.
Questions on the right-to-work law came from two members of the studio audience, challenging both the premise of the law and the way it came about at the end of December in the lame duck session.
Snyder said even before Michigan was a right-to-work state, the state was hemorrhaging jobs. "So that (right-to-work) was not the key driver," he said. "To put it in a simple context, I did not go looking for this issue. ... It's here, let's make it work and take on other issues. I'm going to take the side of the workers. Right-to-work is between a worker and a union."
He added, "I believe it will bring jobs to Michigan. It's a topic I think we can agree to disagree and we can move along together."
On jobs, Snyder repeatedly touted
mitalent.org , a Michigan website that helps match workers with jobs. He talked about a group of companies throughout the state that offer an apprenticeship program for workers to get paid while going to school for a skilled trade, similar to programs in Germany.
Education was a much-discussed topic. Patti Driscoll, an audience member who said her job was "Mom," wanted to know if Snyder was in favor of more year-round schools.
"The schools are the center of the community," he said, noting the Pathways to Potential pilot program underway in West Michigan. "One thing I'd like to do is more and more make the school more of the hub of the community."
Montcalm County Sheriff Barnwell and another self-described Mom, Lauren Peck Tori, asked questions about law enforcement and rehab for people with criminal pasts.
"There are a number of programs we've added that are good," Snyder said. "The Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Program wasn't good enough and we're implementing improvements." He added the entire criminal justice system needs reform, and more needs to be done to help the unemployed and those with a record to stay on the straight path and find a sustainable job.
In a few quick questions, he indicated he is not in support at this time of changing Michigan from a winner-takes-all state to a proportional delegate state in the Electoral College.
He also touched on immigration and food safety.
"You're my customers," he said at the end of the town hall. "This gives me a chance to hear what's on your mind and gives me a chance to give you the full information directly from the horse's mouth -- and I hope you're thinking of the mouth."
The governor slipped in his oft-repeated mantra to keep "relentless positive action" moving forward.
Snyder's discussion of the Electoral College and schools struck a chord with Democratic State Rep. Brandon Dillon of Grand Rapids.
"The governor may have to go back to school himself to try to figure those numbers and how they actually comport with reality because there are a lot of schools, particularly in Grand Rapids, who would tell you they've seen massive cuts over the last two years and the governor hasn't begun to address that," said Dillon.
After the cameras were off, people cleared the studio. Some left with more insight and some left wanting more.
"It's kind of a tough audience when you're on for an hour live. I think he handled himself pretty well with some very pointed questions and some personal at times," said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand.
"I think the governor was very wishy-washy and refused to answer a couple of really tough questions about some of the divisive things that were done. I wish he would just address those head on and tell people where he stands especially with issues like the Electoral College. I think he would get a lot more cooperation from people on the other side," said Dillon.
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Michigan is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification.