Snyder eyes future as his profile builds

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder has put an end to rumors that he plans to run for president next year.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about his political future.

A packed national travel schedule, which is positioned as a way to tout Michigan’s “comeback story,” is viewed by political watchers as Snyder’s effort to gain name recognition on a national stage. From California in late April to a New York visit late last week, Snyder is seemingly making traction in at least raising his profile.

But why is the term-limited Republican governor traveling the country to promote Michigan’s economic recovery — and Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy — if he doesn’t eventually aspire to a national post?

Snyder offered a brief statement Thursday saying he is promoting Michigan’s economic success story to a national audience in an effort to lure new business.

“I do not have plans to run for president in 2016,” the statement said, adding that Snyder will focus on resolving “historic issues” at home.

One of those “historic issues” is the dramatic defeat of Proposal 1 on roads funding in Michigan. About 80 percent of statewide voters in the May 5 ballot proposal rejected the complicated plan to raise money for road work.

Plan B on roads

The morning after Proposal 1 was defeated, Snyder told reporters he planned to work quickly with the Legislature on an alternative, preferably one that does not involve asking voters to approve another ballot proposal. He said a delayed deal threatens to postpone construction schedules as roads continue to crumble.

Snyder won’t be able to build name recognition nationally if he’s stuck at home dealing with this unresolved road-funding plan, said Ron Fournier, a columnist with the Washington-based National Journal.

“He’s got to get this infrastructure thing straightened out,” Fournier said. “That was a big blow to him.”

Lawmakers put the roads deal to Michigan voters after failing to come up with a funding plan on their own. Proposal 1 would have raised more than $1.2 billion to fix the state’s decaying roads and bridges by raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and removing it from fuel sales, while also raising fuel taxes.

But it ran into trouble with voters in part because of its complexity. Besides roads, it also would have raised money for public schools, local governments and an income tax credit for low-wage workers.

Proposal 1 failed by the largest margin of any constitutional amendment since Michigan’s constitution was adopted in 1963, the Associated Press reported.

A Cabinet post?

Exactly what Snyder does now to deliver on that promise of a Plan B for roads may be one of the deciding moments of his governorship, and his long-term political prospects, some observers say.

There is speculation among analysts and political writers that a Cabinet post may be Snyder’s ultimate endgame. Snyder, however, will neither confirm nor deny he wants one. He said only that he will stay on the national speaking circuit, and that he’s proud of Michigan’s successes.

“I will continue to tell Michigan’s comeback story nationally because our reinvention should not be unique to just our state,” he said.

And in terms of the field of presidential candidates, Snyder told the Wall Street Journal last week that he was “watching who is in the candidate race, because we need a problem-solver in Washington,” adding later that he didn’t see such a problem-solver in the field.

Snyder isn’t a viable presidential candidate for 2016 because the Republican field is crowded with contenders who have better name recognition and more money in their war chests, Fournier said.

To be sure, Snyder does have successes to promote for a future run or other high-profile post.

He helped craft Detroit’s grand bargain during the city’s bankruptcy, a deal designed to lessen the blow from cuts to retiree pensions that included $195 million from the state and hundreds of millions more from foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“His big calling card is Detroit. Detroit is a hip, exciting, intriguing brand across this country, even in the world,” Fournier said. “The Detroit comeback story is something that everybody is watching, and that’s something that Snyder has unique claim to.”

Even though he’s not a national household name, Snyder is hailed in Republican circles for replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax and for signing right-to-work legislation in December 2012, which prevents labor unions from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.

More than 12,000 union members and supporters protested the politically divisive right-to-work legislation at the Capitol. But signing the law earned Snyder stripes among more partisan Republicans.

Michigan’s economy also has rebounded since the recession. Unemployment, once the highest in the nation at more than 15 percent, fell to 5.6 percent in March, state data show. And, Snyder says, Michigan has added close to 400,000 private jobs as the state’s economy moves away from heavy dependence on auto manufacturing.

Political ambitions

Bill Ballenger, a former state lawmaker and founder of Lansing-based political newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said if Snyder had joined the fray for the 2016 presidential bid, he would have struggled to convince a national electorate of his problem-solving prowess, he said.

“The real question is: Has he really ‘solved’ Michigan’s problems?” Ballenger asked. “I think many people would say there are a number of things that he hasn’t solved yet. Maybe he can solve them by the time he leaves office in 2018. Maybe not.”

Snyder’s eventual prospects as a Cabinet member or other Washington post could depend on who is elected president, said John Truscott, president of Lansing-based political consulting firm Truscott Rossman and an ex-aide to former Gov. John Engler. And what he’s doing now may well raise his profile in Washington, or serve as a platform for a post-government career.

“I wouldn’t doubt that some people get in the race just to be a player so they get mentioned, they get their agenda out there,” Truscott said.

But, he added, “I don’t think he would ever admit (it).”

Building a national profile

A former executive with computer company Gateway Inc., Snyder has a background in business, not politics. But he has proven an ability to tackle tough political problems, notably Detroit’s bankruptcy, Fournier said.

“Snyder might be somebody that would make sense to have on a ticket,” a Republican from a blue state, Fournier said. “If a Republican wins, he’d certainly be somebody who’d be mentioned as, and even on the short list for, a Cabinet post.”

That depends, he said, on two big “ifs” — whether Snyder can continue momentum on rebuilding Michigan and Detroit, including reforming the city’s troubled public schools, and whether he can raise his national profile.

Raising Snyder’s profile is the mission of a nonprofit entity led by Snyder supporters, including former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak. The group recently created a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Making Government Accountable to fund Snyder’s national trips. It’s not an official campaign fundraising arm but helps pay for his travel.

The travel effort is “a trial balloon,” Ballenger said. “They’re going to try and help him do what he wants to do for as long as he feels it’s something that looks acceptable.”

The national circuit includes a range of influencers; Snyder spoke April 27 on a panel discussion on Detroit’s bankruptcy at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference, and, according to The AP, had a packed schedule in New York late last week. He met with site selectors who help companies choose where to locate and hosted a reception at Detroit watch company Shinola’s flagship store in New York City, AP reported.

Schostak could not be reached for comment on this story. The resident agent on the nonprofit formed March 23 is Peter Ellsworth, a Lansing-based attorney with Dickinson Wright PLLC.

In the immediate term, Snyder’s main focus likely will be on roads.

He can recover politically, long-term, from Proposal 1’s rejection, Truscott said, adding that it took Engler multiple tries in the 1990s to pass Proposal A, which restructured property taxes and funding for K-12 schools.

To succeed, Snyder will need to pull House and Senate leaders aside to work through alternative proposals and lobby for votes, Truscott said. The Legislature won’t be able to raise the amount Proposal 1 would have without either a tax hike or significant budget cuts elsewhere in state government.

“When you have an accomplishment after a failure, the failure pretty quickly gets wiped away,” Truscott said. “The measure of a good deal is not everybody’s happy.”

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Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:19pm
I would you rather you publish articles on what mayors, superintendents, hospital presidents, and other people who are trying to improve Michigan. I do not need to read about someone who is talking about meandering about the country trying to improve his image. Bob
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:29pm
That's a good point. It would also be good to hear from county commissioners and township officials. And it would be good to hear from people who don't have such a government-centric role in improving Michigan.
John Sullivan
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:30pm
Your Snyder article was informative.
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:32pm
Nice puff piece. Snyder has always been a smoke and mirrors guy - from the destruction of Gateway to SPARK to the governorship. The 'comeback' story is another of his smoke and mirror masterpieces. $2 billion to business to create jobs and we got very few, no accountability and another gigantic transfer of wealth to the already wealthy and corporations. While the middle class shrank and absorbed more taxes. Proposal 1 was another of that kind of smoke and mirrors sell job - but people are starting to see through those.
Craig Oldham
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:35pm
Many in our state don't care much for the leadership shown by Mr. Snyder! I understand many; more than 50% possibly, do think he has done well. All of his "successes" are not his alone, that is for sure! I look forward to the end of his term and wish him the best in the national political arena. It is my hope that at the national level he will be under a much more intelligent scruntiny. 6 years ago our state was coming out of a horrific time, Detroit included, and we were in the beginnings of an economic turnaround before he even took office. Who is to say the turnaround wouldn't have been better under democratic leadership? We all can debate his leadership and success forever! Three final thoughts, how about success with Detroit Public Schools, charters that still hide how they use of public monies, and will he demand his legislature go to summer session to solve the road debacle?
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:53pm
What comeback? Do not let Governor Snyder determine the narrative. The political climate is too conservative for many businesses, the schools are underfunded, and the roads are terrible. Again, I say, what comeback?
Tom House
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 12:45pm
While we all read about the economic climate improving in Michigan, many of us in public education are getting ready to make another round of deep cuts to staff and programs before the next school year. This has become an almost annual ritual for hundreds of local school districts. We are offering fewer programs to students that we did 20 years ago in many cases, and we still have a per pupil foundation allowance which is lower than it was in the 2008-2009 school year. I pray the economic recovery continues and that our legislators and governor can budget adequate funding for our K-12 public schools before many more districts fall in to deficit.
sam melvin
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 1:07pm
There is no business then "road business" no roads no business.SEE also "TRAINS"! in the making for over 30 years "The golden Spike!
Jim Fuscaldo
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 2:40pm
Facts are stubborn things. You can ignore them or deny them but you can't change them. Since Governor Snyder took office in 2011, the state’s budget has grown 14% to a projected $30 billion from $26.3 billion according to the state’s Senate Fiscal Agency. This increase exceeds the inflation rate and Michigan’s minimal population growth. The 2015 Alec Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index provides further evidence of the Governor's administration's failed efforts to achieve significant improvement in Michigan's economy. Michigan ranks last (50th) in Economic Performance and Non Farm Payroll Employment. It ranks 47 in Absolute Domestic Migration with a cumulative loss of 628,472 residents; Michigan has also lost ground in the Economic Outlook Rank from 17 in 2012, to 24 in 2015. Local governments will soon experience the loss of allocated revenue as a result of Proposal 1 of 2014 that eliminated the Personal Property Tax that was a significant financial benefit to Michigan's multinational corporations such as Dow Chemical. Consider this from the legislative analysis: "The analysts have projected the net loss to the General Fund, notwithstanding the projected recoverable revenue from the State Essential Services Assessment (Bill 829). The net loss is $107 million in FY 2016 and increases significantly every year thereafter. For example, the losses are $ 349.5 million in FY 2017; $ 373.7 million in FY 2018; $ 395.5 million in FY 2019, and progressively increases up to $ 502.2 million in 2028 ( Source: House and Senate Fiscal Agencies legislative analysis)." As a result local governments will receive less from the shared income pot. Consequently, local governments must timely consider where they will cut spending. Nevertheless, the Governor continues his corporate welfare programs carried out by his "slush fund" the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Taxpayer money goes to the MEDC; then to corporate cronies; from corporate cronies to campaign contributions; then recycled back to the Governor's campaign fund.
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 3:56pm
He ran on the platform of being transparent. He sure is, you can see right through him. He is no friend to unions, the middle class, the schools, but business is and will always be his friend. If he truly thought for one minute that proposal had even a glimmer of hope he is out of touch. Good choice to not run for President, but his political career isn't over. Keep increasing graduation requirements, and that will solve all of our problems. R.L.
Clifford S
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 5:04pm
Business's like those who promote business. Snyder's background at Gateway never seems to make the papers. His signing of the anti- Union bill is a collective effort of business and the RNC to limit the monies available to unions to support Union friendly politicians plus increase profits for business. But let a businessman with very close ties to Snyder sign a bad business loan and have the courts affirm he owes the debt, the Republicans will pass a bill retro- active erasing that business man's liability. Guess that shows who's who for politicians. So he likes travel on other people's money, not surprised!
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 5:03pm
Under the last three governors Michigan has managed to become "A Nigeria with snow". Upon graduating my engineering students immediately moved elsewhere.
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 10:21pm
It appears most of the comments are from "diehard" Democrats. Everyone is quick to complain but rarely does anyone offer suggestions for improving the situation other than "throw the bums out!". It works both ways; if you don't think he should get much credit for the accomplishments that have taken place, then he shouldn't get much blame for what didn't take place. Where would we be today with Virge????
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 10:33pm
With respect to the current issue, i.e. Our embarrassing roads, something should have been started thirty years ago so there is plenty of blame to pass around. At one time I could tell when I crossed the border into Indiana because the roads became substandard. I can still tell when I cross the border but the road conditions are reversed! Since tourism is a big industry in Michigan further delays in improving our transportation infrastructure is unacceptable!!
Mon, 05/11/2015 - 11:57pm
What the article does not mention is that change from the small business tax to the 6% corporate tax is funded by Michigan's retirees and low and middle income working families . It also does not mention the largest number of jobs created in Michigan are in the small business sector which is notorious for low wage jobs . These low wage earners were the hardest hit by the extra tax burden to relieve the " small businesses " in Michigan . Do you realize a multimillion dollar hedge fund can fit into that " small business " description ? Basically every employee of a " small business " had to take a pay cut to offset the pay increase for their employers . This " small business " tax break added almost $2.5 billion to Michigan's middle class and retirees tax burden . On top of this he now needs the working people of Michigan to give more in taxes and fees to fix a problem that should have been fixed long before the $2.5 billion "small business" tax brake was dumped on Michigan's working families and retirees . Snyder is your typical Republican who believes if you give business and the wealthy enough tax brakes they will shower the people with jobs . Michigan's economy has risen primarily do to the auto industry and subsidiary businesses and suppliers . Something Snyder and his Republican cohorts are trying to claim as their doing . Snyder is very good at putting a good face on bad policy .
David helka
Wed, 05/13/2015 - 8:42am
Snyder is a true politician lies bends the truth 4 big business. takes credit 4 things & says that's what you voted for & wanted
T. R. Shaw
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 10:36pm
Why is it that we think there is an ulterior motive to his tour promoting Michigan? I'm just excited that we have a cheerleader for our state willing to promote Michigan to a national audience. That's a lot more than previous Governors have done and I'm thankful that his efforts will help reverse the negative image Michigan has undeservedly acquired. If he gains personal attention as a national leader and potential candidate,, so be it, it's good for Michigan!
Elena Herrada
Wed, 07/15/2015 - 11:32am
Snyder's narrative on "come back" would be better termed "go back." Going back to segregated schools, poverty wages, backward welfare policies that do not allow poor people get advance out of poverty, cutting programs for the poorest and giving tax breaks and give aways to the wealthiest, perpetuating emergency managers in Black communities so they become increasingly in despair. This is what nostalgia looks like. Snyder is the hero of those who think this is the way to go. But it is not forward. It is backward to Jim Crow.