RAAD Coalition working to develop a state department for rural issues

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NEGAUNEE, Mich. (WLUC) - Over 100 individuals and groups are banding together to fight for legislative attention to rural Michigan.

The Rural Affairs and Development Coalition, or RAAD, is working with members statewide to come together and urge Governor Gretchen Whitmer to create a new cabinet level position.

"With all that goes on within the legislature, and within the executive branch, it's really easy for issues to get lost, and so you need someone who has daily attention and daily focus on the issue," says RAAD Coalition spokesperson and CEO of InvestUP, Marty Fittante.

The proposed Michigan Department of Rural Development would focus on championing for rural affairs and issues in Michigan.

"Be it energy, be it the delivery of health care, be it how schools are funded, so what we're looking for through this initiative is some way to try and tackle those challenges," says Fittante.

This comes in a time when many feel that rural Michigan is not given the attention that it needs.

Many are concerned about Governor Whitmer's recently approved road bond plan, which excludes Upper Michigan's roads entirely.

"The problem is, none of that $3.5 billion will flow up to the Upper Peninsula. So of the 43 new projects, they are all below the M-10 line in Ludington," says Fittante. "None of those dollars will flow back to the Upper Peninsula."

Fittante says thats $600 for every man, woman, and child in the Upper Peninsula.

He also says the office would have a modest staff size, and a $2.5 million price tag, as estimated by the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Should it be implemented, Michigan would be the first to enact an office of this kind.

While RAAD has had several meetings with Governor Whitmer's staff, they don't have much traction from the governor specifically.

TV6 & FOX UP reached out to the governor's office to comment on the matter, and received the following statement in an email:

"Our administration met with the group and listened to their concerns, but this is not something that we are considering at this time. The state currently has a department – the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development – that is focused on improving the lives of Michiganders who live in rural communities and Governor Whitmer’s Upper Peninsula office provides hands-on service to residents who live in the Upper Peninsula."

"Additionally, Governor Whitmer has outlined a number of proposals throughout the year, and in her State of the State address, to meet the needs of Michiganders who live in rural communities. She has led on improving education and skills training, creating more good-paying jobs, making health care more affordable and accessible, and combating the opioid epidemic. She introduced Michigan Reconnect to ensure that Michiganders have a tuition-free pathway to the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow. She fought for a weighted foundation formula and tripled the number of literacy coaches to improve the education outcomes in schools. She called on the legislature to codify the Affordable Care Act into law to protect it against Republican attacks. And she formed the Michigan Opioids Task Force, which has made recommendations for prevention and treatment. Governor Whitmer has taken bold action on the kitchen table issues that matter most to Michigan families all across the state."

In the meantime, the RAAD Coalition is working to elevate their cause and gain attention, hoping for cooperation from state government down the road.

"It's not only good for the U.P., but really good for all of rural Michigan, and keep in mind that that's 2 million people, so 20 percent of our state live [and] work in rural Michigan. And so this is really about communities," says Fittante.

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