Has the tide finally turned for Michigan?

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The line kept running through my head as I mulled over the optimistic chatter at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s policy conference on Mackinac Island last month. I’ve been going to these gatherings for some time now, and this is the first time in years that I’ve heard such optimism expressed about so much by so many.

Taken together, things in Michigan seem to be moving in the right direction – more so than they have in a long time. This seems to be partly because of events – and also outstanding civic leadership.

One big plus is that the process of ending the Detroit municipal bankruptcy without wholesale catastrophe – while still not completely in the bag – seems to be moving forward, thanks to remarkable leadership on all sides: Newly elected Mayor Mike Duggan has moved smartly, assisted (!) by the City Council; Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is proving to be smart, skilled and surprisingly compassionate.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven W. Rhodes is actually moving the ponderous legal machinery; his official mediator, Gerald Rosen, another federal judge, has been the prime and effective mover for the “Grand Bargain,” and Gov. Rick Snyder, facing re-election this fall, is keeping his eye firmly on the ball.

Leadership is a little like pornography. You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. And it isn’t just happening in Detroit.

Lansing, for so long the symbol of partisan gridlock, actually seems to be working reasonably well these days. The legislature last week passed (on time again!) a $10.18 billion general fund budget; it’s expected Snyder will sign it promptly.

Perhaps most notably, the budget hikes state support for colleges and universities by $85.9 million, an increase of 5.9 percent. It’s the first significant increase for higher education in many years, and it suggests our leaders actually are beginning to realize our economic future will depend on skilled and talented people – who are most likely to be those with college degrees.

Unfortunately, the higher-education appropriation of $1.21 billion is still far less than the $1.98 billion the state spends on prisons. It will be a bright day when Michigan chooses to spend more on educating young people than expensively warehousing felons.

But there is more good news. It also appears the New International Trade Crossing, the new bridge over the Detroit River linking Michigan and Canada, has at last achieved some momentum. Manuel (“Matty”) Moroun has spent years and years, not to mention millions and millions, to preserve his Ambassador Bridge monopoly.

Nevertheless, the U. S. Coast Guard last week issued a permit allowing the NITC to go forward, which even the Morouns acknowledge is a big setback for them. They may file more nuisance lawsuits, but just about all that remains is getting the feds to come up with $250 million for a customs plaza on the American side.

In another little-noted triumph, the legislature removed previously passed language prohibiting the Michigan Department of Transportation from acquiring land essential to building the bridge. That had deeply upset and angered Canadian officials, who are essentially paying all
the upfront costs for a bridge both nations need.

Sure, everything is not all peaches and cream. It never is. We still don’t know if our lawmakers are ever going to have the guts to come up with enough money to repair our terrible roads, even after this horrendous winter. And most Michiganders still say our biggest problem continues to be jobs and the economy.

That, and the inability of our school systems in many places to provide children the skills to meet the needs of the labor market.

But overall, public opinion at last seems to be turning. A poll released two weeks ago by WDIV-TV and the Detroit News found that a majority (45.3 percent versus 40.8) of Michiganders felt our state is headed in the right direction.

It’s been gloom and doom for a long time in the mitten state, but at long last the tide does seem to be rising. Most of the boats are bobbing more up than down. And for people like me who write columns, it’s a lot more fun to be discussing good news.

We’ve spent too many years wailing over the bad.

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Comments

Charles Richards
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 2:36pm
After noting that " the budget hikes state support for colleges and universities by $85.9 million, an increase of 5.9 percent." Mr. Power goes on to say " It’s the first significant increase for higher education in many years, and it suggests our leaders actually are beginning to realize our economic future will depend on skilled and talented people – who are most likely to be those with college degrees." It is definitely is the case that our future depends on substantial increases in our human capital, but it does not follow that increased investment in our colleges and universities is the best means of achieving that. It is essential that we have "skilled and talented people," but Germany and Switzerland have been able to produce large numbers of such people without sending a high proportion of their students to college. And given that over a third of Michigan's college graduates leave the state, there seems little point in producing still more. Michigan is not a far off island, difficult and expensive to get to. Nor do citizens of the other 49 states require a passport to move here. Trying to produce all the college graduates we may need is akin to producing all of our smart phones in state. It smacks of autarky and is grossly inefficient. He says, "Unfortunately, the higher-education appropriation of $1.21 billion is still far less than the $1.98 billion the state spends on prisons." And goes on to say, "It will be a bright day when Michigan chooses to spend more on educating young people than expensively warehousing felons." No. It will be a bright day when some of our less desirable citizens choose to quit behaving in a manner that compels us to spend large sums on their incarceration, money that could be far better spent on education and roads.
sam melvin
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 6:59pm
Higher education ..the salary foe the U of M staff was increased by 65-75% yes that is higher education ...while the intern get.....zero even for the insider trading the professor still make MORE! The General fund Budget in 1990 $ 7,7 billion in 2001 % 9,7 Billion now $10.8 billion . Hmmh but the budget is cut OFF for Foodstamps?SNAP OUR VETREANS DONOT qualifiy for FOODSTAMPS/SNAP! The Eldery have not recieved there HOME HEATING CREDITS in 20012/2013... THE Eldery are still being Short change for ther RENTREFUND ..they live in PILOT TAXFREE Houseing good for the OUT OF STATE Landlord <That is over $ 200 000 in prorety taxers LOST to the Cities and to Michigan .WHY is no one fixing that POTHOLE?propertytaxHole? In 2009 rep. John Dingell iussed $ 200 Million for the train to go from Ann ARbor to detroit for that years THANKGIVING PARADE (stop in Ypsi) BUT it is 2004 NOW WHERE is the train? Maybe this years or THE GOLDEN SPIKE over 30 years in the making? Why do we have to spend a LARGER SUM for prisoners? Take all th egoodies away , just basic bread and water,no marriges , healthcare or TV etc.
sam melvin
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 7:05pm
How much moneies has the department of CHILDENFORCEMENT send to mothers this years , So mothers can keep there children at home and not on the street /Prison.What help have they or they intiled too or the children as Citizen of Michigan? Over 20 MILLION children donot get there chidlssupport checks , In Michigan we have 1900 children in Fostercare and only ONE judge to oversea> really like to know. yes business are open , but no money for the Senior / Vetreans to go shopping yes there are vetreans and there familie waiting for answrers . iN YPSILANTI MICHIGAN
Wed, 06/11/2014 - 1:36am
I will suggest to Bridge magazine that the economy started to turn in 2010. If you're part of the 1% it started to really hum; if you're part of the middle class and working poor things started and have continued in a downward spiral - taxes went up, your local public school budgets were slashed, in some parts of the state your vote didn't count, wages/benefits on a down trajectory, etc. I would also suggest to Bridge magazine that they start looking at ALL of Michigan and not just the 1% - Koch, Devos, the Mackinac Center, and especially the Chamber of Commerce. When all of Michigan starts to do well then the economy will start to actually turn around. That takes leadership in Lansing that will stand for ALL of Michigan not just the 1%. And that is not Snyder and his Lansing loons.