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Guest column: Citizen input sought on Michigan’s to-do list

By John Austin/Michigan Economic Center

All of us who live in -- and love – Michigan have some deep-rooted sense of what makes the state special. Our great outdoors and spectacular lakes. Our cars, the open road, hauling the camper or snowmobile Up North. Great colleges and universities that bring us together on football Saturdays and give us a shot at a world-class education close to home. The outsized history and special vibe of cities such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo that -- through triumph, tragedy and rebirth -- fascinate us still.

We need to appreciate that these foundational assets of our state -- great schools and universities, quality roads and transportation system, historic cities, clean water and great parks – also are the most important assets to rebuild, if we are to reboot our state’s economy. They have given us a unique identity and strategic economic advantages for many years, while also engendering pride among our citizens and making Michigan a desirable place to live and work. 

And these assets are public goods -- the things we do together as a community with our tax dollars; ones that the private sector and market does not provide on its own. 

And our public goods are severely degraded: A down economy, combined with 12 years of state tax rate cuts, has dramatically reduced our investment. Michigan has a yawning $1.5 billion hole in fixing roads and bridges; our citizens are poorly served by transit. Community revenue sharing has been slashed 32.7 percent. Michigan’s high-quality higher education is now being priced out of reach: tuition has doubled at public universities, state support for community colleges has fallen by a third.

Once a conservation leader, Michigan is 47th out of 50 states in conservation funding. Environmental cleanup spending has dropped dramatically. Beach closures have doubled.

To thrive anew, we must tap what we value most in this state, what is uniquely special about Michigan, and build it up again:

Great and affordable schools and universities that produce well-educated people, attract top talent, and do the research that brings economy-changing innovation and new enterprises.

The 21st century infrastructure needed to move goods, services and ideas in the global economy. 

Communities where our kids, and those from outside the state, want to live and work -- with parks, libraries, arts and culture, transit, entertainment and safe and exciting neighborhoods.

We must polish our “Pure Michigan” jewels to shine anew: clean water, rivers, parks and forests.

Better connecting what is special about Michigan — and how to turbocharge it for economic growth -- is the work we are about in the Michigan Economic Center’s “Michigan Dream Restored” Initiative. Supported by a $225,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, guided by a multi-sector advisory board of diverse Michigan stakeholders, we will be having deep discussions with Michigan citizens over the coming months about what they value and what is special about Michigan.

A key feature of the initiative is the use of sophisticated citizen-value identification tools, drawn from private-sector consumer market research, to better match public investment ideas with what Michigan residents value most — and what they are willing to pay for. We are going to ask the people of Michigan what’s special about this state and, with their help, inform specific public good investment ideas that have a better chance at winning support in the public sphere. In doing so, we have a shot at restoring the uniquely Michigan version of the American Dream.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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