ALPENA - The Alpena Chapter 468 of AARP hosted a public forum on Monday where residents discussed local and statewide issues with Ken Hubbard, Democratic candidate for the 106th Michigan House District, and incumbent Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle.
While the event was intended to target senior issues, area residents questioned both candidates about education, jobs, taxes and the current economic state of Michigan. The forum took off with formal introductions of the candidates, and each had time to speak before being challenged with uncensored, direct questions by audience members.
"There is a challenge in Michigan with tough recessive times. We need to focus on the good and not blame parties, but put together realistic and attainable budgets. We all tightened our belts and came out with timely budgets with realistic numbers," Pettalia said. "We can only spend the dollars that are there."
News Photo by Emily Siegmon
Rep. Peter Pettalia, right and Ken Hubbard, candidates for the 106th Michigan House District, listen to a question from an audience member during a public forum hosted by AARP on Monday at the American Legion Hall.
During Pettalia's opening comments, he mentioned protecting senior citizens and pensions, where he said the state no longer can afford tax exemptions for those under the age of 60.
"The federal government recognized there needed to be a change, otherwise we will be broke," Pettalia said.
Hubbard said in some aspects he agrees with Pettalia, especially that the country is currently in poor shape, but admitted the two candidates have different views on how to solve local issues.
"Middle class and seniors have been hit the hardest while big businesses reap the benefits. If it wasn't for corporate tax breaks, I wouldn't be running right now," Hubbard said. "We need to work together across the House. I think we can get there. It's time to look at the system and fix those problems."
However, Pettalia said the House is working together and has passed many bills with over 80 percent support.
"Eighty percent of bills have been highly bipartisan," Pettalia said. "There is cooperation across the aisle. It's only news when we have conflict on a bill. We aren't going to agree on everything."
Education and tax breaks were a high-priority concern for residents at the forum, and when asked specifically about the issues, Pettalia said declining enrollment is a major cause to the lack of local school funding.
"Corporation tax breaks did not take any money away from local schools. Since Proposal A, Alpena Public Schools have lost 35 percent of students, and are now operating with less children to fund schools. We need to reconstruct school funding and not base it on population," Pettalia said.
Hubbard disagreed, and said the money that went toward corporate tax breaks could have gone to funding schools.
"We gave corporate tax breaks, but we're having troubles with our schools ... It's about state economy and local economy. The recovery of our state and the recovery of our district are two different things," Hubbard said. "We need to help this community at this place and time, our middle is too big to fail."
However, both Hubbard and Pettalia agreed businesses should be encouraged to come to Northeast Michigan to increase and create jobs that will attract people to the area and keep them here locally. Both candidates also do not support Michigan becoming a right-to-work state.
"Who saves and who pays is where we are not cooperating. We need to do what's best for our state and communities," Hubbard said.
Other issues that were discussed during the forum include involving local school boards to solve funding issues, changes to the Michigan tax structure, No Child Left Behind, vocational education programs in public schools, and collective bargaining.
"Why do people leave, because jobs are not here. We need to focus on making Michigan a business-friendly state, we need employers to have employees," Pettalia said.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5687.