Gov. Rick Snyder may not be a typical politician, but he’s also no fool.
With fresh good news to share in his second State of the State address before a statewide television audience, Snyder led with it. And he invited Republican lawmakers in the House chambers to take credit for the positive unemployment report released by his budget office that afternoon.
It showed that 2011 produced the first net job gains in a decade with a 67,000 increase in payroll employment. Factor in the net loss of 13,000 government jobs and private payrolls grew by 80,000. The unemployment rate dropped from 11.1 percent to 9.3 percent. A separate economic forecast prepared for the January Revenue Estimating Conference reported that personal income grew a robust 5.8 percent last year, the biggest increase since 2000.
After a decade in which Michigan appeared to be “tired and broken,” Snyder said that in 2011, “large strides had been taken to make Michigan a great state again.”
Snyder didn’t state the obvious, given that the particulars of his business tax overhaul didn’t kick until this month: timing is everything. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm would no doubt agree.
Snyder declined to share what his own economists are forecasting, but he should have, to buttress the case that much work remains: 2011 could be the high water mark of his first term. Payroll employment and personal income will continue to grow, but at a slower pace through 2014.
Critics said Snyder’s speech lacked specifics, but it did contain a number of pretty big and uncomfortable subjects Lansing has preferred to avoid. Remarkable about it is that Democrats had more reason to cheer than Republicans.
Consider the mixture of stated and unstated principles in the “good government” agenda he laid out.
Michigan must raise $1.4 billion in new gas taxes and fees through a bipartisan package of revenue bills he’ll get behind. He urged the Republican chairs of the transportation committees in the House and Senate to quickly commence hearings.
One third of the North American economy fits within a corridor that stretches from Montreal to Chicago, so further postponement of the New International Trade Crossing (the second bridge in Detroit to non-government types) by opponents only threatens Michigan's economic future.
President Obama’s federal health-care reform, as implemented by his administration through a Michigan-specific insurance exchange, will be good for consumers.
Business tax cuts will continue to be paid for. The conversation over how to reduce property taxes on equipment and machinery will include partnering local officials at the table.
A criminal justice system that has too many prison employees and not enough local police on street patrol is in need of “major improvement.”
More critical than any law or regulation is the remaking of a Michigan culture that remains too negative and divisive into one that is “positive, inclusive and confident.” While labor strife dominated in Columbus, Ohio, and Madison, Wisc., successful 2011 negotiations with Michigan's state employee unions were the result of coming “to a winning solution together.”
The principle that rejects division and promotes inclusion could be seen as not-so-subtle references to the efforts by some Republicans to begin picking fights with those who oppose them politically, chiefly organized labor.
The introduction of “right-to-work” legislation by backers is pending. House hearings have begun on bills that would impose $10,000 daily fines for public employee strikes that no longer occur and require the HR departments of Michigan employers to obtain annual written employee authorization for the withholding of union dues. So much for reducing the regulatory burden on business.
Backers of right-to-work say passage in Indiana would put Michigan at a competitive disadvantage.
But if you were a business seeking to expand, would you invest in Michigan, where Snyder wants the political culture to invite investment? Or in Wisconsin, where more than a 1 million signatures have been filed to force what promises to be a nasty recall election of GOP Gov. Scott Walker?
If Michigan were to follow Indiana, it would quickly devolve into Wisconsin. Repealing prevailing wage laws, moreover, would doom a transportation funding package because labor and Democrats would bail.
Snyder obviously knows this. He singled out for praise a revived domestic auto industry that is a 21st century model of labor-management accord and which will boost its Michigan employment in 2012. Snyder’s economic forecast touts the impact of monthly increases in Michigan vehicle production since the end of 2009.
Distill Snyder’s message and he wants a modern Michigan economy backed by a supportive, stable political structure that properly invests in government’s agreed upon role in that economy.
Now he just has to make it happen.
Peter Luke was a Lansing correspondent for Booth Newspapers for nearly 25 years, writing a weekly column for most of that time with a concentration on budget, tax and economic development policy issues. He is a graduate of Central Michigan University.