Gov. Rick Snyder delivered his eighth and final State of the State address to a joint session of the Michigan legislature Tuesday night. Prominent members of the Michigan state government, as well as scores of bureaucrats, law enforcement officials and journalists attended the address.
The address was broadly reflective of Snyder’s tenure as governor as he focused heavily on economic policy. He noted the state economy has grown since he took office and highlighted job growth as a particular strength for the state. He credited tax cuts enacted during his tenure for business success statewide.
“We, as a government, don’t create the jobs,” Snyder said. “We create the environment for success.”
Snyder praised several lawmakers and government officials for their work during the speech, including Amarjeet Sohi, Canadian Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, who has worked extensively with the Michigan government on planning the creation of the Gordie Howe International Bridge and was present at the address. The bridge, to be completed in 2022, will connect Detroit with Windsor, Ontario.
Snyder also briefly spoke about the opioid crisis in Michigan, commending a popular program that allows addicts to approach law enforcement officers for rehabilitation resources without fear of arrest or prosecution. He also noted that the state’s prison population has fallen below 40,000 for the first time since 1993.
While he mostly focused on the successes of the state under his stewardship, Snyder conceded that changes lawmakers made to the state recycling program were one of the biggest failures of his administration.
Throughout the speech, Snyder offered several critiques of contemporary political culture. As a fiscal conservative, he criticized those who advocate for unfunded tax cuts. This may have been a veiled rebuke of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republicans’ signature federal legislative achievement during the last year. The bill, which was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 22, is projected to add $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.
However, Snyder was likely referring to the tax cut currently being enacted by the state legislature, where both chambers overrode his veto six days ago. Though he was attempting to keep the state budget balanced, state Republicans showed a united front, passing the further cut unanimously in the state Senate and with a sizeable majority in the state House — much to the chagrin of fiscal conservatives like Snyder.
“Being fiscally responsible is more than just balancing budgets,” Snyder said. “It's not thinking about us today, but our children and future generations.”
Snyder also briefly addressed the Larry Nassar trial, affirming his commitment to combatting sexual assault on campus.
“Let us also…reach out and support the courageous survivors and ensure that cases like this never happen again," Snyder said.
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, voted against the tax cut and the override but said he empathized with his Republican colleagues. He opposed the cut primarily because he wants to see increase in state funding for public education.
“I had to balance that with the need for good quality public education for everyone in the state, which I think is a great benefit to working class Michiganders,” Rabhi said.
State Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Cheboygan, the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Michigan House, expressed faith in Gov. Snyder and the work of the Republican Conference during his tenure.
“I think Governor Snyder did an excellent job detailing the growth and comeback our state has had over the last seven years,” Chatfield said. “He’s really charted a nice path for us. Moving forward, our focus needs to be on improving skilled trades and making sure that we have a skilled workforce ready to take jobs that are available in our state.”
The speech was not so well received by Michigan Democrats. Rabhi felt the governor’s characterization of the state’s well being was inaccurate and that his optimistic tone was misplaced.
“I think that the governor painted a very rosy picture of the state of affairs in Michigan,” Rabhi said. “I would argue that the state has so much more that it needs to do, and we have unfortunately gone backward in some key areas.”
Rabhi specifically criticized Snyder’s policies relating to road and water infrastructure, the Flint water crisis and providing internet and other key services to Michigan residents, among other policy areas. In his view, the state’s economic growth over the last seven years has come at a significant cost; public funding has been cut in a number of areas.
Snyder spent little time on policy details during the speech, preferring to focus on big-picture reflections and accomplishments. One of the unifying themes of his address was family. He used the word to describe an ideal political world, where each member is willing to work cooperatively with the others and avoid hardline partisanship. To this end, Snyder also criticized politicians nationwide for engaging in ruthless and unproductive partisan competition.
“I believe the greatest threat to the future of our nation is ourselves … If we can't get along with ourselves, how can we be great?" Snyder said. "If you hear someone running for political office talk about 'fighting,' the red lights should start flashing. Who are we fighting? Ourselves.”