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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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From the Daily: Stuck in politics

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published January 16, 2014

While a State of the State address is typically held to discuss future goals and upcoming issues, Gov. Rick Snyder seemed intent on examining the past. Up for reelection in November, Snyder was eager to expound on his accomplishments in the past year, ignoring many controversial and critical issues important to voters. When the governor did speak about Michigan’s future, he spoke vaguely, without presenting a concrete plan of action. The overly nostalgic speech raises questions about the purpose of the address and suggests that Snyder is more focused on reelection than on improving the lives of citizens through substantive policy changes.

Though circumspect, Snyder did touch on a number of issues important for Michigan’s forward progress. Arguing that immigration to the state would help Michigan’s economic recovery along, the governor announced that he would be creating the Office for New Americans by executive order to attract talented immigrants to Michigan. Snyder also pledged continued investment in Michigan roads, acknowledging that the changing climate has been creating potholes. And in light of the recent tragedy in New Mexico, Snyder’s support of mental health in conjunction with school safety was a welcome talking point.

The rest of Snyder’s speech failed to address key issues — issues that are not only important to Michigan, but are also issues that he has supported in the past. This was most likely an attempt to appeal to a wide range of voters. While Snyder did bring up the environment — declaring his distaste for Asian carp and other invasive species — renewable energy was surprisingly absent. The governor has openly supported green energy in the past year, pointing out that investing in these forms of energy will create a cheaper, cleaner source of energy. Also missing was the passage of the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which he did not support.

In his effort to avoid criticism in the high-profile speech, Snyder elected not to address a number of disappointments from his administration. Recently, Snyder’s tenure has become marred with controversies stemming from a lack of government transparency. In October, Snyder was forced to shut down his New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund due to reports that the money was being used to bankroll living expenses for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, the salary of Snyder’s adviser Rich Baird and even the installation of an alarm system and new furniture in Snyder’s Ann Arbor home. Furthering the controversy, he refused to reveal the names of the fund’s donors. In late December — going back on a campaign promise — the governor signed a bill that solidified non-disclosure laws for donors of issue ads and doubled the political campaign contribution limit. Transparency is crucial to reducing voters' agency costs and ensuring that government representatives are acting in the best interest of those who elected them. Snyder needs to shake this troubling trend and show Michigan residents that he has nothing to hide.

Higher education funding was also notably absent from Snyder’s speech. Since Snyder has taken office, funding for higher education has taken a cut of more than 11 percent. Tuition increases are an effect of these cuts, as universities struggle to find other sources of income or reign in spending. This was especially apparent last fall, when Wayne State University forfeited $534,700 in performance-based funding. Because the state was not funding the university sufficiently, Wayne State opted to raise tuition in order to gain a financial footing the state couldn’t offer. Snyder should not be encouraging further cuts. He should be increasing higher education funds to alleviate the mounting student debt young Michiganders feel today.

Snyder’s speech merely celebrated the past achievements of his term in office, and failed to confront the pressing issues of Michigan’s future. Hot topic issues such as green energy, higher education funding, transparency and the “Rape Insurance Bill” were markedly absent. While this may have been for the benefit of his upcoming campaign, the governor lacks foresight of what matters most to Michigan voters.