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Thousands rally at Michigan Capitol protesting budget, labor bills

LANSING — Thousands of Michiganders gathered on the East lawn of the Michigan Capitol Wednesday to protest Republican legislative proposals that, in their view, undermine labor rights and budget proposals that balance the state’s budget on the backs of seniors and the poor.

“I am here because the Blue Green Alliance is an important player in mobilizing the environmental and labor communities to develop the clean energy agenda,” said former Congressman Mark Schauer, who now runs the Blue Green Alliance. “Those jobs will help us compete in the global competition for jobs — and it is global. We don’t win that competition by cutting education.”

Capitol Committee officials say the crowd was between 4,500 to 5,000 people, but organizers told the crowd the number was 10,000.

“Gov. Snyder said he wanted shared sacrifice,” said Sen. Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). “But it is clear once again that he and the GOP leaders are falling back on picking the same old winners and losers they have always relied on.”

Snyder’s budget has been assailed by a broad coalition of groups because of plans to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit and to start taxing pension incomes for seniors. The budget also eliminates the Michigan Business Tax and its dreaded 22 percent surcharge and replaces it with a flat six percent business tax. That move results in furthering the budget deficit the legislature has to overcome to nearly $3 billion.

Robert Quackenbush, 68, says he dedicated 51 years of his life to working, including 35 years in a foundry in Saginaw. He did that, he said, so he could get a modest retirement pension.

“I earned what I got,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of some one trying to take it away.”

Terry Miller, 67, chimed in on the conversation at this point. “That’s what we put our time in for. So we could retire and enjoy it.”

Miller is a retired UAW worker from Flint.

“The middle class came with the union and it will go away with the union,” Miller said.

“This is the worst it’s ever been in my lifetime,” said Quackenbush, commenting on legislation unions say will undermine organized labor’s collective bargaining power.

Snyder’s former Democratic rival, Virg Bernero, deliver an impassioned populist speech to the crowd.

“It’s not the money changers on Wall Street that make America work. It’s not the big banks that make America work. It’s you,” Bernero roared at the raucous crowd.

Bernero took a swipe at the GOP, claiming they were rehashing trickle down economic theory that, he said, had proven to be a failure. Growing the economy, he argued, starts with the workers, not the rich.

“If you take care of the grass roots…good things will grow up!”

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