My name is Yousef Rabhi, and I have the honor of being Ann Arbor’s newly elected representative in the Michigan House of Representatives.
I’d like to introduce myself to those of you who may not know me yet. I’m an alumnus of Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan, and I am deeply committed to supporting public education. I first got involved in politics through my work in the community dealing with the environment, labor rights, peace and social justice. Starting in 2011, I served as a Washtenaw County commissioner. As chair of the Board of Commissioners in my second term, I led the board to create Washtenaw County’s first balanced four-year budget, which earned us an AAA bond rating. During that time, I also worked hard to create the Washtenaw County ID program and build a dental clinic to serve low-income residents. In the Legislature, I hope to work with my colleagues to promote public education, protect our environment, advance equity and fight for an economy that works for everyone in Michigan. But to make real progress in these areas, we will also need to work to restore our eroding democracy, ensure that our government is transparent and properly fund our local units of government.
As a firm believer in the power of the people to make change, I would also like to call upon you to get involved in what our state is doing. I will need your help every step of the way to make sure we can make progress. As a legislator, I want to be an organizer, bringing state government to you and bringing you to state government. To that end, I will hold bimonthly Constituent Hours so that I can connect with you and hear about your priorities and concerns about legislative issues. I will announce the full schedule of Constituent Hours once it is finalized; information on my first Constituent Hour is available below. I would also encourage you to get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at email@example.com, or on my website, http://rabhi.housedems.com. Additionally, I will send these e-newsletters monthly to update you on legislation and community news. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to working on your behalf to move Michigan forward.
I look forward to the chance to meet many of you in person, and to discuss your priorities for our state. To that end, I will be holding Constituent Hours in Ann Arbor twice a month. While the full schedule has not yet been finalized, the first Constituent Hour will be:
Date: Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017
Time: 10 a.m.
Location: RoosRoast Coffee, 1155 Rosewood St., Ann Arbor
Democracy and Accountability
It is troubling that Michigan was ranked 50th in the nation by the Center for Public Integrity in its evaluation of transparency and accountability in state government. However, many citizens across Michigan, regardless of party affiliation, support proposals to improve transparency and ensure good governance. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass legislation to restore confidence in the people’s government.
One of my top priorities is to create a nonpartisan independent redistricting process. Over the years, both parties have sought to distort the redistricting process for partisan gain. We have a system where our politicians get to choose their voters, violating the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded. A nonpartisan, independent process would be fair and transparent, ensuring that the political will of Michigan voters is better reflected in Lansing. I have co-sponsored legislation in the House to create an independent, nonpartisan commission to draw district lines.
Another priority of mine is the expansion of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to cover the governor and the Legislature. In order to create responsive public policy, we need a transparent and democratic government. As a state, we could have handled situations like the Flint water crisis and the mismanagement of Detroit Public Schools better if the decision-making had been subject to public review instead of being shrouded in secrecy. Although the legislation to expand Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act did not pass in the last legislative session, I am hopeful that Michiganders from all across our state will make their voices heard and demand its passage, now that this bipartisan package has been reintroduced again this session.
In Michigan, we are the stewards of the largest source of fresh water in the world and host some of the most unique wildlife species on the planet. We must promote sustainability and ecological stewardship of these natural features if we expect future generations to live in world with clean air and clean water.
As the climate continues to change at an alarming rate, I will actively work with my colleagues to support legislation that encourages investment in renewable energy. Continuing to harness fossil fuels through dangerous methods — such as extracting natural gas by hydraulic fracturing — is not sustainable or safe. Instead, we should invest in Michigan’s green economy. This is a positive way to create jobs, diversify our state’s economic portfolio, and lead our state toward carbon-neutrality.
As we discovered in the Flint water crisis, meaningful local participation is crucial in ensuring that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) actually protects our air and water. As a county commissioner, I worked to demand action from the state in dealing with the ongoing 1,4 dioxane contamination of Ann Arbor’s groundwater. As the newly appointed Democratic vice chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee for the Department of Environmental Quality, I will continue to hold the DEQ accountable and advocate for a more effective cleanup.
Because the dioxane issue is so important to Ann Arbor, the first bill I introduced as your representative, House Bill 4123, would require actual cleanup of contaminated sites and aquifers. Instead of merely limiting human contact with pollution, as current law dictates, responsible parties would have to treat or remove contaminants to the extent possible. Legislators across the state face similar situations in their own districts, and I was able to get a bipartisan group of 21 representatives to co-sponsor the bill.
In order to create a robust and resilient economy, our state needs to foster economic diversity and promote economic justice. We need to make sure that every Michigander can share in the economic growth of our state by increasing the minimum wage, protecting collective bargaining rights and fighting for a restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit. We also need to support our local businesses by creating a local vendor preference policy for state purchases, instead of sending our tax dollars out of state.
One of my top priorities is building a fairer tax system so that those who benefit most from our economy are asked to pay their share for our vital services and infrastructure. Right now, lower- and middle-income households pay a higher percentage of their income in state and local taxes than high-income households do. In recent years, corporations have had their state income taxes reduced by nearly $2 billion each year, while families shoulder a larger share of the burden. We need more resources to support our communities and invest in roads and schools. I will support a graduated income tax plan that would lower or hold steady taxes for approximately 95 percent of Michigan families, while raising more funds for our state. I also want to make sure that corporations are paying their fair share to help move our state forward and invest in infrastructure.
Ann Arbor is a testament to how diversity can create a vibrant place to live and grow. During my term, I will advocate for legislation to make Michigan as a whole more open and welcoming. Despite recent progress toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Michigan’s laws still leave them unprotected from discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment. It is long past time to remedy this injustice; I will work with my colleagues to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.
As we face potentially drastic changes in our health insurance system, I will continue to be an advocate for health coverage for low income, no income and middle-class families. I will fight to restore funding for mental health care in Michigan instead of leaving our already overburdened local governments to shoulder the costs of delivering those services.
We must also continue to fight for women’s rights and work towards racial justice by enforcing equal pay for equal work, increasing funding to process rape kits, reducing mass incarceration and mandating implicit bias training for law enforcement. We have a lot of work to do, but, like our community, our state will thrive when everyone is able to live up to their potential free of the burdens of inequity and discrimination.
Investing in education is a priority for the Ann Arbor community, and I want to make it a priority in Lansing. Unfortunately, our state is investing less in education than we did in the past. I will support measures to make sure our public K-12 schools have the resources they need to provide quality, comprehensive education for all students.
While many of our public universities and community colleges consistently perform well in national and international rankings, our state continues to underfund higher education. This inevitably leads to higher tuition costs. Even as our students are working hard to perform well in their classes, they are racking up debt. The Legislature needs to do its part to ensure that access to education does not leave our graduates with massive financial burdens.
As a member of the Higher Education and Community College subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee, I will be a strong voice for re-investing in our community colleges and universities. It is unsustainable for us to continue to raid the K-12 School Aid Fund to pay for higher education; we need to provide enough resources for students of all ages. Because education is so clearly the key to our state’s future, I hope that I will be able to work across the aisle with my new colleagues to find agreement on ways to invest more in our students. They are the future, and it is time for us to support them.
Free Tax Preparation Help Available
As part of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, the Washtenaw County United Way offers free tax preparation help. You may schedule an appointment online or by calling (734) 677-7235. In order to qualify for full-service tax preparation, your household income should be $53,000 or less. The following documents will be required:
- Social Security Card for each family member and picture ID for all adults.
- W-2 forms for all jobs worked the previous year.
- Proof of rent or mortgage and property tax payments.
- Child care providers’ name, address, and federal tax ID numbers.
- Blank, voided check or deposit slip (if you wish to set up direct deposit of your refunds).
- 1099 forms for other income, including unemployment insurance income.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) letter.
- Copy of your last year’s tax return (if available).
- Last winter’s heating bills (11/2015-11/2016).
- Any other tax-related letters or documents.
For individuals and families making up to $64,000, free online filing with tax preparation software is available through www.IRS.gov/freefile. The United Way will also provide in-person volunteer assistance with using this online system. Taxpayers of all income levels can file their taxes for free online without assistance through www.IRS.gov/freefile .
You can find a list of additional locations offering free tax preparation on the Washtenaw County Treasurer’s website at www.ewashtenaw.org/government/treasurer.