By Steve Zoski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 17, 2013
LANSING—As hundreds of warmly dressed protesters filled the steps of the Michigan State Capitol Building Wednesday night, legislators gathered in a building replete with Michigan State Police officers to hear Snyder deliver his third State of the State address.
Snyder, a University alum who delivered the 2011 Spring Commencement speech, said he remains committed to reinventing Michigan through tough decision-making and sacrifices that will leave a better state for future generations.
He said the 2000s were a disparaging decade where a shrinking Michigan lost 750,000 jobs. He said his administration has responded to such dark days and as a result have seen higher incomes, an increasing population and an improving housing market.
Snyder recalled a chart he has in his office displaying a history of Michigan's percentage of the U.S. income. He told legislators he laments that the number went down from 5.25 percent to 2.5 percent between 1965 and 2009, but added that his policies have put the state on a new path.
“Our role in the national economy reduced by more than half in those years, but it started to come up again,” Snyder said. “We've been coming up the last two or three years, but I don't want us to go back down again and just say it was another blip.”
Snyder said he’s committed to keeping the state growing economically, but that Michigan needs to re-invent itself first.
“The greatest challenge to make that happen isn't any piece of legislation I've mentioned; it's not any of the great reforms we've already done. The greatest challenge in doing that is really simple: We just need to go look in the mirror,” Snyder said.
The state needs reformed education, more jobs and an annual billion-dollar investment in safer and better roads, the governor said. He added that it is unacceptable that 60 percent of students in Michigan need remedial classes, and that he has a commitment to various state programs that help children, like the Department of Natural Resources' summer youth employment program.
He said his administration has seen government play a stronger, friendlier role in certain elementary schools where social workers have been renamed success coaches.
In an interview after the address, State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he hopes that Snyder will change his uncompromising approach with state Democrats, but fears that will not be the case.
Irwin said Snyder spoke in platitudes about higher education but the governor's past policies contradict that.
“Time after time, the governor talking about something that is import for us in the future, apparently he wants to focus on, then sort of glosses over the fact that the past two years he's done just the opposite,” Irwin said.
Snyder’s approach to education has been contradictory, Irwin suggested. He cited unprecedented cuts to the state’s K-12 and higher education contributions.
Irwin said many of Snyder’s policies drive young, capable residents out of the state. He said Snyder has spearheaded legislation such as the targeting of gay and lesbian employees in local government and colleges, which is regressive to state development.
Newly inaugurated State Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D–Scio Twp.) said she questioned whether Snyder was as committed to education and making a more attractive state for graduates as he claimed.
“They made a 15-percent cut in higher education funding and they cut K-12 funding. There was no conversation about that,” Driskell said.
Driskell added that Snyder talked about making the state more innovative after the decline of the auto-industry, but said protecting education funding would have been critical to that goal.
No elected officials representing Ann Arbor in the state legislature identify as Republicans.