At a “Pancakes and Politics” event held yesterday, the Black Student Union brought together students and political officials over brunch for a wide-ranging discussion of governmental issues facing students.
Held at the William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center, a group of about 30 students and legislators broke up into groups to talk about education, taxes and urban policy, among other things. Later, the conversation led to a more open forum.
Ned Staebler, a Democratic candidate for the 53rd District of the Michigan House of Representatives — which includes Ann Arbor — encouraged everyone present to participate in this coming Tuesday’s elections.
“Now we need everybody’s skills, we need everybody’s input,” he said. “Democracy is not free. Its price is participation. Everybody needs to participate.”
Discussion of the state budget and its effects on students dominated the conversation.
Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) touched on the Michigan Promise Scholarship’s funding issues that resulted from the state’s budget crisis and billion-dollar deficit and led to the discontinuation of the program.
The final state budget that Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law Friday cut the merit-based Promise Scholarship, which provides tuition money to more than 96,000 Michigan college students. In an interview last month, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Daily that an estimated 6,096 students at the University would be eligible for Promise grants this academic year.
At yesterday’s event, Brater said Democrats have proposed a number of revenue options to help mitigate the situation.
Brater stressed that the state revenue stream needs to be reviewed and restructured. She recommended amending the state constitution to make its tax code more progressive — meaning it would be based more on an individual’s ability to pay.
Staebler echoed this sentiment.
“When you’re designing your tax system you want to have a couple of different things in mind. You want it to be simple and you want it to be fair,” he said. “And I think a progressive tax system is by far the most fair system that we can have.”
The conversation also turned to a discussion about how the dismal state of the economy has led to a “brain drain” of Detroit in which highly educated people with advanced degrees leave the area to find jobs elsewhere.
Susan Baskett, chair of the Ann Arbor Board of Education, stressed the importance of primary education. She said both parents and the state should place an increased emphasis on the value of completing primary education so individuals can then go on to complete college.
“You have to hold your people accountable, your kids accountable, your neighbors’ kids accountable,” she said. “You have to start local, hold everyone accountable, and know your policy. There is strength in numbers and you want to make sure all your kids graduate in a timely manner.”
In interviews after the event, the politicos in attendance said they felt they benefited from the event just as much as the students.
Baskett said the event was important because it gave politicians the opportunity to hear the concerns of the state’s students.
Brater said she felt the student input was insightful and that the event was an education process “in both directions.”
“I’m learning from the students and the students can get some information from me about what’s going on in the state government,” she said.
The coordinators of “Pancakes and Politics” said the goal of the event was to educate students on political issues and to publicize the upcoming elections this Tuesday.
LSA sophomore Autumn Holmes, who helped coordinate the event, said they wanted those in attendance to step outside the student “bubble.”
“Our purpose today is to introduce people to individuals who are in government, who are in power and have the power to basically make the laws,” she said.