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How will Michigan’s next governor prepare for a recession?

Key decisions about Michigan’s strategy when the next economic downturn arrives will likely be left to the next governor.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is term-limited in 2018. But don’t expect many candidates who hope to replace him to tout their recession strategy on the campaign trail. At least, an early Republican favorite won’t be.

“If you’re saying, ‘How do you prepare for the next recession,’ that's a losing attitude,” said Attorney General Bill Schuette, the perceived GOP front-runner.

“That’s the shrinking-pie theory. I’ll have none of that,” Schuette told Bridge. “I’m not going to be governor of Michigan in decline. No way. We need to expand Michigan’s lens of jobs and opportunity and entrepreneurism.”

Jobs and the economy are top themes in any campaign, but it’s hard to prepare an electorate for tougher times when the economy is doing well, said John Truscott, president of Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman and a former press secretary for Republican Gov. John Engler. Hence, Schuette’s aversion to the R word.

Truscott said Republicans are better off running against the Democratic nominee — former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer has a wide lead in some early polls — by trying to connect whoever is chosen to the economic challenges under Jennifer Granholm, the state’s last Democratic governor.

Likewise, he said, Democratic candidates could run on a platform that GOP-led policies have left many Michiganders behind as a way to gain disaffected voters outside the party base. That sense of economic malaise “is pretty hard to rebut, because it’s a feeling people have,” Truscott said.

Whitmer said that’s what she has been hearing as she tours the state to meet with residents. She argues for expanding access to college and training to equip more people with the skills employers need.

“Getting people into the training and skills that they need, that’s the best way to weather” the ups and downs of the economy, Whitmer told Bridge. “All of the data shows that the more skilled you are, the less likely you are to be out of a job because of an economic downturn.”

Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said it’s not surprising that candidates don’t want to talk about the next recession, but they had better be thinking about it.

“It is certainly reasonable to ask the candidates how they would deal with a recession, as Michigan historically does worse than average in downturns,” Grossmann said. “But neither focusing on education and training nor hoping for better times ahead constitutes much of a plan for dealing with a recession.”

Grossmann said any such plan should deal with how the state’s budget would deteriorate in an economic downturn, he said. The next governor would have to deal with any mid-year budget shortfalls — and potential cuts — that arise.

“Everyone should be prepared to have a message on it.”

MORE COVERAGE: 

Is Michigan ready for the next recession?

Snyder has steadied state finances, yet that may not be enough

What Michigan businesses learned from the last recession

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