No offense, Gov. Snyder, but here’s Michigan’s real ‘State of the State’

Michigan’s economy is rising, but there is still much to do for our state to flourish, as Gov. Snyder may well note in his State of the State address.  

What’s the state of the state?

You could listen tonight to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as he gives his eighth and final annual address to legislators, well-wishers and media. If it’s like past yearly speeches, there will be applause and shout-outs and a few ambitious goals aimed at improving the lives of Michigan residents

But what’s the real state of the state?

Update: Five big things Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants done. All of them iffy.

We have a steadily improving economy, pay less in taxes than most states, and saw employment grow nearly 10 percent between 2010 and 2015. But Michigan also has higher poverty rates; schools that lag behind most other states, with sub-par support for public universities, and higher tuition costs for students and their families. We smoke and binge drink more than residents of most states. And don’t get us started on our roads.

Today, Bridge Magazine unveils a series of reports that establish where Michigan is as a state ‒ in plain, straightforward words and numbers. You’ll find things in these reports that are surprisingly positive, and others that are frustratingly awful. You’ll note that Michigan is improving in some areas, but that we have a long, long way to go in many others.Read our nonpartisan, just-the-facts reports on education and talent, economy and prosperity, quality of life and government

Michigan fact roundup

In November, Michigan voters will elect a new governor and all 148 state legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate – the first time that has happened since 2010. That gives residents a rare opportunity to make choices that will set the course for Michigan for years to come.

It’s easier to make those choices when we have a common set of facts from which to begin debate.

Here, then, is the real state of the state, facts that inform the most critical issues we expect candidates for state office to address in their campaigns.

Economic good times (unless you earn a paycheck)

Michigan’s economy is the 13th-largest in the nation, growing 2.2 percent in 2016 – significantly faster than the nation as a whole (at 1.5 percent).

That’s the good news. The bad news is that when you look at the past decade rather than just one year, the national economy has grown four times faster than Michigan’s.

For most families, the overall economic gains probably mean less than  changes to their paychecks ‒ and by that measure, we’re not doing all that well. The 2016 median household income in Michigan was $52,492; that’s more than $5,000 below the national average, ranking us 34th.

Related: Michigan income growth hindered by lack of college graduates
Related: Michigan business climate improves, but educated workforce is shrinking

Seven in 10 residents own their own home in Michigan, ranking us 8th in the country, but those homes are worth 29 percent less than the national average.

And after eight years of economic expansion, few candidates will want to talk honestly about some economic headwinds that will put the squeeze on the state budget in the years ahead.  

What’s wrong with our schools?

A lot. Our students are trailing peers in other states, and we don’t have enough college grads to supply the talent needed to turbocharge our economy. (As one example, see, Amazon rejection)

Michigan ranks 41st nationally in 4th-grade reading, and 37th in 8th-grade math.

Do we spend enough on K-12? It depends on how you spin the numbers.

Related: Michigan's K-12 performance dropping at alarming rate

We spend about four of every 10 dollars in state spending on education. But K-12 per-pupil spending dropped 7 percent from 2005 to 2014, the second worst rate in the nation. Even so, our per-pupil spending is just about average for the country, and the average teacher pay ($63,878) is 11th highest.  

One problem, as two independent commissions have now pointed out, is that while leading education states tend to give more money to schools where students face extra challenges, Michigan’s formula gives roughly the same amount per student. The latest study also noted funding disparities among some districts and between traditional districts and charter schools that need to be addressed.

Related: Many Michigan K-12 reform ideas are jumbled, broad, or wildly expensive

The Snyder administration and Republican lawmakers also want to make skilled trades promotion a priority, including improving career counseling, providing schools with access to equipment and a renewed emphasis on vocational training, such as by making it easier for private-sector professionals to instruct students without needing a teaching credential.

Top-tier economic states have high percentages of residents with college degrees. Among Michigan adults, 28 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, ranking the state 36th.

One huge impediment to raising Michigan educational levels is the cost of higher education. We devote less money per capita to higher education than most states (Michigan ranks 35th). Perhaps as a result, students and their families end up paying 69 percent of college expenses (6th highest). In nearby Illinois, students and families pay just 32 percent of such expenses. Candidates need to address the high cost of tuition and rising levels of student debt.

Smoking, drinking and moving

With almost 10 million residents, Michigan is the 10th-largest state. Yet we remain dead last in population growth. While the state lost 1.6 percent of its residents between 2007 and 2016, it’s a positive that we have shown small, but unmistakable, growth in the past six years.

The average Michigan resident dies seven months earlier than the national average. That may be partly because our residents have the 10th-highest rates of binge drinking and adult obesity, and the 11th-highest rate of smoking. We also have the 16th-highest rate of violent crime, though this rate has dropped more than 20 percent in the past decade.

Infrastructure is boring, until it is not

Who paid attention to old water lines before Flint? Turns out, Michigan utilities have an estimated 460,000 miles of lead service lines, trailing only two other states, according to an American Water Works Association survey. Gov. Snyder wants to pass the nation’s strictest regulations aimed at keeping lead and copper out of the water supplies; it’s an idea that could prove expensive.

Speaking of old, 2018 candidates will be talking about the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac. While the chances of an oil leak may be small, the environmental devastation of a large-scale spill would be devastating to the Great Lakes and Michigan’s tourism economy.

Related: Michigan's Great Lakes are good, but water concerns include lead and Line 5

The state’s aging network of sewer systems is probably not the first item on any politician’s campaign platform. But its current state means billions of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage flowing into rivers and lakes every year. And the state has flagged more than two dozen sites where toxic chemicals, known collectively as PFAS, have been found. That includes shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide’s contamination of drinking water in Kent County, where folks worry about cancer risks.

And there’s the small matter of paying for our crumbling roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and communications infrastructure. According to a governor-appointed commission, that will cost Michigan at least $4 billion more each year for decades. How to pay for it? Where will the state revenue come from?

Taxes? What taxes?

If wealth is going to trickle down anyplace, it should be here – Michigan’s business tax burden (as a share of the total state economy) is tied for lowest in the country.

Residents aren’t overtaxed, either, compared with residents of other states. Michigan residents paid $3,744 per capita in state and local taxes in 2014. That’s 17th lowest in the nation. That’s context to consider as Snyder resists  higher tax cuts proposed by the Michigan Legislature.

Related: Michigan gives more tax breaks than it collects for schools, government
Related: Big government? Michigan's state, local workforce 2nd smallest in nation

State government spending is up about 10 percent since 2010-11. But while “cutting fat” in government sounds good, it may be tough to do. In 2014, Michigan had the second-lowest ratio in the nation of state and local government employees to general population. We are spending more on roads now, but we still fall $4 billion per year short of what experts say is needed for infrastructure maintenance.

We remain generous in one area, however: The average state legislator salary is $71,685 – fourth-highest in the country.

One more thing for candidates in 2018 to keep in mind: Michigan voters like to vote, relatively speaking. In 2016, 64.7 percent of registered voters made it to the polls, the 13th-highest rate in the nation. So it’s probably a good idea to think about the real state of the state.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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David Waymire
Tue, 01/23/2018 - 10:57am

My vote for the single most important piece of information in this very informative piece:
"The 2016 median household income in Michigan was $52,492; that’s more than $5,000 below the national average, ranking us 34th." In other words, in the time of a strong auto recovery, when auto plants in our state and nationally are working near capacity, we are now one of the 20 poorest states in the nation. That should frighten everyone who wants their children to stay or return to Michigan.

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:15pm

And things will get a lot worse. I'm reading "Plunder and Deceit", a story on America's economy. Our national debt, when obligations are figured in is about $210 Trillion, far above the reported $21 Trillion. Welfare programs, such as social security, medicare, and medicaid will, by 2039, be almost 100% of federal spending, and be double the percent of GDP that is provides sustainable programs. In 1935 when SS was formed, there were 141 workers per recipient. In 2025, there will be 2.3 workers per recipient.

There are no more good paying factory jobs where a kid could graduate from high school and the next day start work at a local factory. Even a large percentage of college degrees do not provide a well paying job. The very recent Amazon response labeled Michigan as having a sub educated workforce. Yet every day, politicians are content to kick the can down the road.

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:58pm

Yes, you are totally on target and right.
But the Republican / Koch propaganda machine will flood Michigan with a far rosier (and hate and fear) message and all the ignorant (keep'em dumb with lousy education) will once again drink the Kool-Aid and keep the kleptocracy in power.

Jim tomlinson
Tue, 01/23/2018 - 1:03pm

Republicans govern poorly always have

Sat, 01/27/2018 - 4:57pm

This should be no surprise, Michigna's cost of living is about 10% below US
average! When adjusted for such Michigan is average or slightly above. Without adjusting you might as well be comparing Rubles Pounds and Drachmas but doesn't help with push to increase spending and taxes.

Mike Shibler
Tue, 01/23/2018 - 11:47am

Your paraphrasing of what should be Governor Snyder's State of the State was well done! I do challenge your position on the funding of public education. A recent study, by a respected group of researchers, found that Michigan's public schools are currently funded $2,000 less per student than states which are considered successful in student achievement. For example, Massachusetts, is considered a model among states when comparing success in teaching and learning. It took state officials over 10 years to adequately fund their schools, but now are in a "good place". Since the Michigan study was released, I have done several public interviews, stressing the importance that our state lawmakers need to begin the process of developing a plan to adequately fund our public schools, which will take 10 years or more, but the commitment to a "plan" must prevail through several administrations and legislatures. Dr. Mike Shibler, superintendent, Rockford Public Schools.

John Q. Public
Tue, 01/23/2018 - 11:47am

Nearly all the problems listed go back to the same source: The wants and needs of business--an abstract being--are elevated over the wants and needs of organic human beings.

Business in Michigan has the same demand every time, too: "We demand public services paid for with tax dollars, and tax cuts for business, too." Amazon hires more MBAs from the University of Michigan than any other graduate school of business, but we can't compete in providing talent?

The policy strategy in Michigan when it comes to business is "Reify, then deify."

Sat, 01/27/2018 - 5:55pm

So businesses are cold calculating inanimate beings(?) kind of like Skynet on theTerminator films? I suppose they propagate themselves like Cyborgs in Terminator also?

Laurel Raisanen
Tue, 01/23/2018 - 4:20pm

In addition to what you have pointed out, I want to see exactly how much tax money goes to businesses in the form of captures and incentives. What about legal fees paid in tax dollars from the Flint crisis and the Detroit bankruptcy to name only two. Also the brownfield tax capture and the recent capture of income tax for new workers to the state where qualified. (This money should go to the public good.) Also you failed to mention the dictatorial Emergency Manager Law - one that was rescinded by the voters and put back right away by the GOP lawmakers if money was appropriated. The 2016 election recount proved how badly managed many precincts were, especially in Detroit, by contaminated storage of ballots which makes me think that our voting was compromised. Our state is a mess and we need honesty. Lansing is run by a bunch of bullies and people who care are becoming apathetic. Thank you.

Steve Banicki
Tue, 01/23/2018 - 10:08pm

Thanks for the good summary. Us readers tend not to say that enough.

What I get out of this is Michigan tends not to invest in its going on the cheap relating to infrastructure and schools; I hope this article is used a lot when it comes to our upcoming elections

Gregory Wilson
Sun, 01/28/2018 - 5:37am

"Our students are trailing peers in other states, and we don’t have enough college grads to supply the talent needed to turbocharge our economy".....says the other, or at least enough college grads learning in the STEM stream......instead we have University of Michigan graduating students who have studied such things as: "Women and Safe Sex", "History of Witchcraft". "Red, Queers, Country Music". "QLBTG Media". or "Sexuality in US Pop Culture". (I took these Course names from the current UofM course catalog) You Know, all the course work you need to know to teach students in MI schools.