LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday touted Michigan’s economic and fiscal gains under his watch, saying his tenure has had “huge ups and downs” but that the state is in better shape than before he took office.
In his eighth and final State of the State address, the Republican recapped his time as governor but said he has an ambitious agenda for his last year, with a focus on the workforce, infrastructure and the environment. He also pushed back against ongoing calls for a tax cut.
“During this period, we’ve had huge ups and downs. It hasn’t been a straight line. But overall, there is no question that Michigan is a far better state today than 2010,” Snyder told a joint session of the Legislature toward the end of the 53-minute speech.
Next week, he will unveil five major policy initiatives related to rural broadband access, recycling, Asian carp in the Great Lakes, water infrastructure and the replacement of bond money that has dried up for environmental cleanup. And in February, he will propose a budget with more spending on roads and bridges than is called for under a 2015 transportation funding deal, along with the largest increase in base per-pupil funding in the last 15 years.
He will detail a “Marshall Plan” for developing a talented workforce next month as well.
“This is going to lay the groundwork for a new way of producing talent in Michigan,” said Snyder, who briefly touched on Flint — where lead-contaminated drinking water was blamed primarily on his administration’s failures in 2014 and 2015. Two members of Snyder’s Cabinet are among those facing criminal charges over the man-made disaster, which experts suspect was also tied to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
Snyder said tests show the city’s water is now comparable to other Michigan cities, old lead service pipes are being replaced and Flint is seeing economic development.
His speech came less than a week after the GOP-led Legislature overwhelmingly overrode one of his vetoes for the first time, enacting a speedier tax cut for people who trade in a car for a new one. He made no mention of the override in his remarks. But he indirectly sought to dampen lawmakers’ push for a separate cut to individual taxes while he talked about “fiscally responsible government.”
The Senate voted earlier Tuesday to create an income tax credit for dependent care, after last week passing a bill that would gradually raise the personal tax exemption to $5,000, with future inflationary adjustments.
Snyder has proposed keeping intact and boosting Michigan’s personal exemption to $4,500 to offset unintended consequences of the federal tax cuts. But he has budgetary concerns with going beyond that.
“We have broken culture in our political world where it’s OK to say, ‘We can spend money or we can cut our taxes, and do that now for short-term benefit, and leave the bill for the kids and their family.’ I don’t think that’s right,” Snyder said. “If we’re going to do something, let’s make sure we’re paying for it.”
Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, an advocacy group for the poor, said Snyder has “done a lot of good things” but his fiscal legacy will be at risk if legislators “disinvest” and cut taxes.
“We’ve got to make sure that the next 11 months don’t unravel the good that’s been done,” she said, saying the state cannot develop talented students without spending on infrastructure, schools and higher education.
Democrats criticized Snyder’s depiction of the economy in a state that has added 540,000 private-sector jobs in his tenure and seen a 28 percent growth in per-capita income— both sixth-most in the country.
“The governor paints a pretty picture of Michigan, but too many families aren’t seeing it,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint. “Instead, they’re seeing crumbling roads, aging schools and dangerous water contamination issues creeping up all over the state. We hear a lot of talk, but action doesn’t follow.”
Snyder cited successes such as more preschool spending, the Pure Michigan tourism initiative, a boost in funding for arts, a vocational program for prisoners and his anticipation of a groundbreaking for the future Gordie Howe International Bridge in Detroit this summer. He also renewed his call for an A-to-F letter grade system for public schools.
Democrats running for governor such as Gretchen Whitmer criticized his record, however, and Republican candidates such as Attorney General Bill Schuette said the 4.25 percent income tax should be cut to 3.9 percent to spur growth — despite Snyder noting that households making under $60,000 will qualify for an expanded and more generous property tax credit under the 2015 road funding deal.
TYPICALLY PARTISAN REACTION FROM LAWMAKERS
Reaction to the speech came, unsurprising, along party lines. Republican lawmakers were just as upbeat as the governor, happy to list off accomplishments made during the past several years. Democrats, meanwhile, questioned just how much we’ve actually moved forward.
“When you compare where the state was eight years ago to where it is today, it’s night and day,” state Rep. Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, said.
West Michigan Republicans talked jobs, bringing up the figure of 540,000 private-sector positions created since late 2010.
“It doesn’t matter which industry, if you want a new job, if you want to improve the job that you have, we have jobs available for you at a higher pay,” Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, said.
Democrats, on the other hand said per capita income growth the governor touted hasn’t been seen everywhere.
“What the governor is describing, what’s happened in Michigan right now, I’m not quite seeing the same thing in Muskegon,” state Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon, said.
Representatives from both parties were happy to hear Snyder touch on PFAS contamination — the chemical at the center of the toxic tap water crisis in northern Kent County — but Democrats said they were left wanting more.
“We’ve got a water contamination problem in Kent County and he talked about being a leader in that area as a state and we are very clearly not being a leader,” Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said. “We know that (the new state standard of) 70 parts per trillion isn’t a strong enough standard. There are other states who are leading the way in this, and they’re doing a better job.”
–24 Hour News 8’s Evan Dean contributed to this report.
A summary of the speech:
7:58 p.m.: Gov. Rick Snyder promises to work hard through the last day of his term: “It’s an honor and privilege to serve you.”
He urges a continuance of positive progress for decades.
“Thank you. God Bless Michigan and the United States of America,” he says, concluding his final State of the State to warm applause.
7:55 p.m.: Snyder tells the story of his wife urging him to run for governor. He notes that while there have been ups and downs, “overall, there’s no question that Michigan is a far better state today than in 2010.”
7:53 p.m.: “The greatest threat to the future of our nation is ourselves,” Snyder says. He says we can’t be uncivil along party lines or ideology. “Who are we fighting with? Ourselves.” Fighting is for “the beaches of Normandy, not the beaches of Lake Michigan.”
Snyder says “relentless positive action” is what has moved Michigan forward, not allowing ourselves to get caught in partisan gridlock.
7:50 p.m.: Snyder moves on to PFAS, the chemical at the center of the toxic tap water crisis in northern Kent County. He says Michigan has already made progress on that, including leading the nation in setting a standard.
7:48 p.m.: Snyder says that each day Monday through Friday of next week, he’s going to roll out a new initiative on infrastructure development:
- Rural broadband;
- Revamping the Clean Michigan Initiative;
- Recycling, saying “we got complacent;”
- Fighting invasive species and stopping Asian carp: “Enough is enough! If the federal government isn’t going to do it, let’s get together as Michiganders to protect the Great Lakes;”
- Water infrastructure.
7:45 p.m.: Shifting to education, Snyder says FY18 saw a record high in K-12 education. He said he’ll propose further investments in the operation of our schools. He again mentions building up the Career Pathways Alliance. He also says we need an A through F grading system for our schools.
7:43 p.m.: Snyder on moving forward: Mobility technology is the future of the automotive industry. Michigan should be the leader. “It will transform the world.” He says it’s going to save lives, create opportunities for people with difficulties getting around, is about efficiency. He praises the Planet M initiative and Mcity at U of M.
“The No. 1 priority, I believe, is talent,” Snyder says.
He says we can do more to get people connected to great jobs, reveals he’ll roll out the “The Marshall Plan for Talent” next month. The goal will be to get people into better jobs faster and with less student debt. “Let’s show the world we’re leading this path.”
7:42 p.m.: Snyder moves on to money. He says Michigan’s rainy day fund is now almost $900 million. “That’s fiscal responsibility, folks.”
7:40 p.m.: Veterans now the focus of the governor’s speech. Snyder says benefits for vets are about 40 percent higher than when he took office.
7:37 p.m.: Snyder praises his wife Sue Snyder and a bipartisan group of legislators working to prevent campus sexual assaults, how to provide assault when it does happen and how to help survivors heal. “Let us also apply a similar commitment in the (Larry) Nassar case” and support the survivors and “ensure that cases like this never happen again.”
Snyder praises the Michigan Department of Corrections, saying the state prison population fell below 40,000 for the first time since 1993. He draws attention to the vocational village program, which started in Ionia, that gives inmates skills with the goal of reducing recidivism. He gives a shout out to the Grand Rapids area, which he says has many businesses working to employ former convicts.
7:35 p.m.: Talking about health, Snyder draws attention to the opioid crisis. The number of overdose deaths has increased significantly in recent years. Snyder mentions the “Angel Program,” which is an MSP program that allows opioid users to get help at MSP stations without fear or being arrested. “I can tell you we’ve saved lives already.”
7:32 p.m.: Snyder says nonresident family passes at state parks in the UP have increased 58 percent in the last three years. He talks about a project to build a large trail in the UP. “We’ve increased our funding for arts and culture nearly five-fold since 2010.”
7:28 p.m.: Communities: The average Michigan home sells for 73 percent more than in 2010, the governor says.
“Our communities are doing well,” he says.
He focuses on Detroit, talking about Little Caesars Arena and a new skyscraper going up. In the Fitzgerald neighborhood, they’re revitalizing parcels. “That’s what we need to do be doing in the neighborhoods of Detroit to go along with the downtown.”
As for the Flint water crisis, Snyder says lead in the system is at 6 parts per billion, which he says is comparable to most Michigan cities. He said education efforts are continuing. In terms of jobs, he mentions projects adding positions, including Lear and General Motors.
7:25 p.m.: Snyder moves on to infrastructure, which he says is underfunded nationwide. “Infrastructure is critical to the quality of our life and our economic well-being.” He asks for more budget dollars this year. “Let’s make an investment to get rid of those potholes.”
“But it’s not just about more money, it’s about smarter choices,” Snyder says.
Snyder draws attention to “Flex Route” on US-23 north of Ann Arbor, which he called a creative solution to a problem that saved money.
Snyder says construction on the new Gordie Howe International Bridge will start this summer.
7:19 p.m.: Snyder says we need to do more to support skilled-trade jobs, a longtime priority of his.
- “In 2015, we made $15 million in grants to our community colleges for capital equipment.” He says he visited many colleges to look at those programs.
- Snyder praises the Career Pathways Alliance, which is a public-private partnership to get skilled workers in to jobs.
- Snyder talks about FIRST Robotics, a high school robotics program that is a favorite of his. “We have more teams that California and New York combined.” Two FIRST Robotics teams in northern Michigan customized a robotic car for 2-year-old Jeremiah Nelson, who has a severe form of spina bifida. Jeremiah comes into the room in his car to thunderous applause.
7:16 p.m.: Education: “I want to talk about some of the long-term initiatives we’ve done” that will help students. Snyder says the state doubled the number of openings for economically-disadvantaged kids. He praises investments in pre-third grade reading skill. He says we’ve tripled the number of college classes completed in high school, which he says challenges students and gives them a head start on college. “Let them flourish.”
7:11 p.m.: Snyder going through “measures of success:”
- The creation of private-sector jobs, saying we rank No. 1 in the Great Lakes region and No. 6 in the nation. “We as government don’t create the jobs, we create the environment for success.”
- Agriculture industry has seen a boom in wineries, which is also helping agritourism.
- Per capita income growth: From 2010 to first three quarters of 2017, Michigan per capita personal income grew 28 percent — No. 1 in Great Lakes region and No. 6 nationally.
- “Last year, for the first time since the turn of the century, more people came into Michigan than left Michigan.”
7:09 p.m.: Snyder shows off a Wall Street Journal article that outlined Michigan’s “comeback story.”
7:08 p.m.: Snyder takes a moment to recognize emergency responders who have died in the last year.
The governor then draws attention to the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, which was unveiling a portrait of William Webb Ferguson, the first African-American to serve in the Michigan House.
7:07 p.m.: Rick Snyder recognizes 1st Lt. Cody Cass and Staff Sgt. Michael Beattie, who walked across the U.P. to raise awareness about suicide.
7:05 p.m.: After several minutes of applause, Gov. Rick Snyder reaches the podium. He welcomes legislative leaders, members of the state Supreme Court, other state officials and special guests.
–24 Hour News 8 web staff