Capital Caucus Works to Address Business Concerns

Capital-Caucus-Works-to-Address--Business-Concerns News-pageWhen it comes to priorities, Lansing’s business community wants what virtually every survey says people in the state really want, don’t have and say they need — better roads.

Where many just grumble, mid-Michigan businesses, represented by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce (LRCC), state their case with the Capital Caucus, a bi-partisan alignment of legislators from the counties surrounding Lansing. And when the Chamber speaks, they listen. Roads are the Chamber’s top priority.

At the Capitol, there are caucuses for Detroit-based legislators, mostly Democrats, and a caucus on the west side of the state, mostly Republicans. For mid-Michigan politicians, their caucus is a politically mixed marriage — Democrats and Republicans — which members believe is an advantage, at least on issues that don’t entail fixed party lines. Diversity is its strength, said Republican Sen. Rick Jones, from Grand Ledge, who has participated in the caucus since its inception.

“I think we probably are more powerful because we bring in people from both sides of the aisle to fight for mid-Michigan,” Jones said. “The challenge is that you’ve got west Michigan, which is very powerful, and Detroit, which is very powerful. The Capital Caucus has to become just as powerful to make sure we get our fair share. Someone is always trying to pick off our resources.”

He cited the Caucus success preventing both the Granholm and Snyder administrations from relocating the state’s computer tech operation to Detroit or Ann Arbor. “We lobbied very hard with the director of IT,” Jones said of the Caucus. “We said if you want to build a new tech center, go ahead. Build it somewhere in the mid-Michigan area.”

Other than membership, the Capital Caucus is unstructured, said Chairman Rep. Andy Schor of Lansing. “We meet as the need arises. Last year we got together six or seven times. We had one meeting to talk about priorities. We got together with the Lansing State Journal Editorial Board and we got together with the Chamber.”

Topics vary from encouraging regionalism to Lansing Board of Water and Light to job training/entrepreneurial support. And, of course, roads.

“This is a great opportunity for the region, for us to come together and talk priorities in the legislative process, whether it’s economic development or appropriations,” said Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing, whose district includes Michigan State University, the region’s largest economic engine.

It also humanizes what can be a polarizing legislative environment. “We see each other in a different light” said Rep. Tom Cochran of Mason. “We’d hope that stimulating conversation and trust helps us to accomplish some things.”

According to Caucus members, it was their lobbying that prompted the Governor and Legislature to direct up to $100 million from the Michigan Strategic Fund for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, MSU’s new $730 million particle accelerator. The F-RIB is expected to place the Lansing region in the forefront of nuclear research, and with it, business growth opportunities and hundreds of new jobs. It’s these interests that align in the Chamber/Caucus partnership.

“The Caucus looks for the business community to drive an agenda,” said Kristin Beltzer, the LRCC’s vice president for Governmental Affairs. “We had an opportunity at the beginning of the year to lay out our priorities to them. We get our arms around the policies, the things that we can do to move forward.”

The LRCC has a loaded wish list for its local legislators. Besides its push for better transportation funding — roads and mass transit — and for continued F-RIB funding and support, the Chamber is seeking help from the Capital Caucus for initiatives that support regionalism, particularly government consolidations and shared services. It seeks policies to help local governments strengthen their finances and for help building an infrastructure to enhance international trade.

Two of its most important initiatives deal with education and training and with regionalism, a particularly challenging initiative that often pits one locale against another.

But not always, as a recent Caucus field trip illustrated.

“I represent an urban area,” said Schor and Tom (Tom Leonard) represents a more rural area. We toured the Allen Street Market, stocked with fruits and vegetables. Rural producers bring their vegetables to an urban market where city businesses buy them at a one-stop shop.”

Schor said that demonstrating how communities are interconnected and can share benefits show the promise of regional cooperation. “It can be a really good partnership.”

Lansing regional chamber of commerce Legislative/policy priorities

Business Climate

Taxes and regulatory
Agriculture
Energy — Efficiencies, renewable
Economic development policies
Health care

Facility for Rare Isotope Beams

Continued support of state and federal funding for F-RIB project.

Regionalism

State support for local government consolidation and sharing of services.

City of Lansing/Local Government Financial Health

Support policies that provide local governments with tools to address long-term financial health.

Transportation

Support rational, fair and equitable funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure.

International Trade

Support export strategy for greater Lansing region.

Transportation infrastructure improvements to support interstate access to Capital Region International Airport.

Education/Talent

Support efforts to keep talent in Michigan in developing the strongest workforce to support job creation and economic growth from employers.

Support ranges from early childhood development, K-12 and higher education.

There are 10 mid-Michigan legislators in the Capital Caucus. They are:

House of Representatives

Chair: Andy Schor (D-68, Lansing)
(517) 373-0826, andyschor@house.mi.gov

Vice chair: Tom Leonard (R-93, Lansing)
(517) 373-1778, tomleonard@house.mi.gov

Theresa Abed (D-71, Grand Ledge)
(517) 373-0853, theresaabed@house.mi.gov

Tom Cochran (D-67, Mason)
(517) 373-0587, tomcochran@house.mi.gov

Mike Shirkey (R-65, Clarklake)
(517) 373-1775, mikeshirkey@house.mi.gov

Sam Singh (D-69, East Lansing)
(517) 373-1786, samsingh@house.mi.gov

Senate

Judy Emmons (R-33, Sheridan)
(517) 373-3760, senjemmons@senate.mi.gov

Joe Hune (R-22, Whitmore Lake)
(517) 373-2420, senjhune@senate.mi.gov

Rick Jones (R-24, Grand Ledge)
(517) 373-3447, senrjones@senate.mi.gov

Gretchen Whitmer (D-23, East Lansing)
(517) 373-1734, sengwhitmer@senate.mi.gov

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