A Democratic state senator is facing a primary challenge from two term-limited state representatives for the seat that represents southeast Oakland County.
State Sen. Vincent Gregory of Lathrup Village is touting in part his leadership experience and advocacy on health and welfare issues to try to fend off state Reps. Vicki Barnett of Farmington Hills and Ellen Cogen Lipton of Huntington Woods in the Democratic-leaning Senate District 11.
The district runs from Farmington and Farmington Hills on the west through Southfield, Lathrup Village, Oak Park and Huntington Woods to Ferndale, Hazel Park and Madison Heights on the east.
Former state Rep. Gregory, 65, has been on either the House or Senate appropriations committee for the past six years and is vice chairman of the Senate’s community health and human services panel. He said he has fought for Oakland and Wayne counties to be part of the Healthy Kids dental program for low-income families — a goal that hasn’t been reached — and wants to ensure Michigan’s expansion of the Medicaid health care program for the poor goes well.
“Since I’ve been in the Senate, my goal was to reach across the aisle and get things done. I was able to do that,” Gregory said about his work on property tax reform that requires business properties to be valued at market value regardless of whether they are occupied. He is the associate president pro tem of the Senate.
Gregory, endorsed by the United Auto Workers and Michigan Education Association, wants to increase state road funding and create a separate fund to ensure gas tax money goes exclusively to fixing roads and bridges. Sales tax revenue on gas is constitutionally required to be spent on local communities and education.
“It’s commingled with other things. That is the problem,” said Gregory, a former Oakland County commissioner. “When we were voting on the proposal for money designated strictly for roads, I voted for the tax on the wholesale cost of gas/diesel fuel. I thought it was the fairest way to go.”
Lipton says she would continue her work on education reform if elected to the state Senate. She has been a vigorous critic of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Education Achievement Authority, a state-created agency that runs 15 failing former Detroit public schools, and formed a task force to look at school issues.
“I believe we’ve gone completely in the wrong direction: We need stricter accountability, to know the actual costs to educate a child and the state’s role in assisting struggling districts,” she said. “What I hope to do is to continue the work that I began in the House and see systemic change.”
Another area that requires wholesale change is energy efficiency and renewable energy, said Lipton, who is working on a market-based approach.
“We can create incentives for people to invest in those kinds of improvements while they are living in their home and recoup that value when the home is sold,” she said.
Lipton, 47, said she supported the $450 million House piecemeal road funding package that included closing loopholes in vehicle registration fees, fees on weight limits and penalties for circumventing weight limits.
“But that only covers one-third of the cost. How do we did get to the two-thirds?” she said.
“Of all the ideas floated around, what makes the most sense is a transition to a tax on the price of gas versus a per-gallon tax,” Lipton said, referring to a wholesale gas tax idea that was defeated last month in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Barnett, a former Farmington Hills mayor, is pushing more local control and fewer requirements from the state, such as extra revenue-sharing money for communities if they adopt state-backed better practices.
“Our state really needs to understand local government, to make sure we give them the tools they need to operate and not require consolidations that will happen organically,” Barnett said. “Don’t tell cities what to do. They know what to do. Restore full revenue sharing and stop dictating to them how to deliver services.”
The current model of funding road repairs isn’t sustainable in the long run, said Barnett, who supports the proposed move to a wholesale gas tax.
Barnett supports a change in the business income tax that would generate more money for roads. Some companies known as “non-C” firms pay the personal income tax of 4.25 percent instead of the corporate income tax of 6 percent. She wants these non-C firms to pay a 1.75 percent surcharge that would go directly toward the roads.
She would also like to see an 11-cent surcharge on the international fuel tax agreement between the United States and Canada, and charge and permit trucks over 80,000 pounds.
“Let’s take these combinations of taxes and put that together to create a stable fund,” she said.