By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 16, 2014
On the tail end of his first term, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivered his fourth State of the State address Thursday, calling for an array of initiatives from a constitutional amendment to increased funding for early childhood education.
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This year’s State of the State — an annual address delivered to a special joint session of the Michigan legislature outlining the governor’s upcoming policy initiatives — received additional attention because Snyder will be up for reelection in November. Though he has not officially announced his candidacy, Snyder used Thursday’s speech to reflect on his past accomplishments.
Election-year politics were also on the mind of Michigan Democrats and interest groups that oppose Snyder’s policies, as many voiced discontent with his message after the speech.
The governor spoke about the period leading up to his 2010 electoral victory, characterizing the last 10 years as a time when Michigan was broken.
“We led the country in joblessness, reduced income levels and loss of population,” Snyder said. “In November 2010, the citizens of Michigan spoke not just about my role but of many of us here tonight. They made a statement that Michigan was broken. Fixing Michigan was not good enough; it was time to reinvent Michigan.”
During his speech, Snyder challenged members of the Michigan House of Representatives to join the Michigan Senate in taking up a resolution that asks the U.S. Congress to pass a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to balance its budget each year.
“We balance our budget at home, we balance our budget at work, why can’t the federal government balance theirs?” he said.
Snyder also announced intentions to sign an executive order to create the Michigan Office for New Americans, which will be aimed at increasing and promoting legal immigration to Michigan.
He added that the initiative would be aimed at groups such as international students pursuing advanced degrees.
Snyder also noted several measures to promote economic growth during the speech, drawing data from his “Dashboard” program, which provides easily accessible information about various state issues.
Since December 2010 Michigan has added 221,000 jobs, which was the first time since 2006 that the labor force in Michigan has grown.
In terms of per capita income, Michigan is now tied with Wisconsin for first place in the Great Lakes region in growth of per capita income, population growth and home sales, which he said are up 13 percent.
In the last census, Michigan was the only state to report a loss of population, but Snyder said that is no longer the case.
“For 16 years in a row, Michigan was classified in the high outbound category,” Snyder said. “We’ve just been reclassified in the balance category. People are staying again in Michigan, and we should be proud of that.”
He later added that finding a way to connect Michigan talent to Michigan jobs is one of his priorities.
A portion of the data Snyder used during the report was criticized by many Michigan Democrats on Twitter following the speech as misleading because it included figures from 2009, before the governor took office.
Snyder also addressed the forthcoming February budget, providing some insight into what funding recommendations will be included.
The state’s early educational childhood services cannot fulfill that demand, but Snyder announced that he has recommended an additional $65 million for preschool programs in order to make Michigan a “no wait state” for preschool education.
He also discussed the state’s $971 million budget surplus more broadly, comparing the government to a family that has to take care of the most pressing issues first.
“We have a number of things we should be taking care of, because it’s not about a government that simply says ‘let’s spend everything,’” Snyder said.
He concluded with a call to action, saying though Michigan is a “comeback state,” it still has a ways to go.
“It’s about keeping your foot on the gas, because this is critically important — we have the opportunity to build a great Michigan for today and tomorrow,” Snyder said.
The governor also identified several issues of unfinished business, including transportation reform and constructing an additional international trade bridge between Canada and Detroit.
State Representative Gretchen Driskell (D–Saline) said she usually tries to stay positive about events like the State of the State, but there were a lot of things about the speech that disappointed her.
“We need jobs from the 21st century, knowledge economy kind of jobs, which usually require higher education,” Driskell said. “He didn’t really talk about the things we need to do.”
She added that funding higher education is something which she would like to see an increased focus on.
“I think we could be a leader in the country if we could figure out a way to fund college,” Driskell said. “We’ve talked about that on and off for a number of years now, but it’s clearly a vehicle for providing higher per capita income for folks.”
In anticipation of the speech, Democratic representatives held press conferences across the state, and an initiative through Progress Michigan called “Snyder Fails” held a mock State of the State address in Lansing Thursday morning followed by a speech by House Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor).
Mark Schauer, Democratic candidate for governor, said he found one of the central themes of the governor’s message about family disingenuous.
“The governor talked about bringing people together, but this is the same governor that has attacked women, and made it harder for women to have access to basic health care,” he said.