LANSING — At his 6th State of the State address Tuesday night, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) highlighted a number of issues, including the water crisis in Flint and the large debt facing the Detroit Public Schools system.
Snyder drew a large crowd both inside and outside the state capitol building with hundreds showing up to protest on the steps, calling for his resignation. Many of those present noted their presence, including state senator Ken Horn (R—Saginaw), who highlighted the apologetic tone Snyder set. That tone, he said, differed from his past addresses.
“I thought it was very somber,” Horn said. “It was different than the seven other state of the unions I’ve been to as a member of the legislature. We dealt with the Flint water issue primarily and I think the governor set a tone that we are here to help. Mistakes were made on every different level.”
Key points made during the speech included a six-point plan to respond to the Flint water crisis, fixing Michigan’s deteriorated infrastructure, aiding the Detroit Public Schools system and the economic future of the state — particularly the future of the automotive industry and the trajectory it is currently on.
Snyder began his speech addressing the people of Flint, which served as the main focus of the address.
“Tonight will be a different State of the State,” Snyder said. “I would like to address the people of Flint. I want to speak directly, honestly sincerely… The government failed you. I’m sorry most of all that I let you down. You deserve accountability. You deserve to know the truth and I have a responsibility to tell the truth.”
During the speech, Snyder said he will release all of his e-mails pertaining to the water crisis as well as a comprehensive timeline listing every step taken. He also announced plans to request $28 million from the state legislature to provide additional bottled water and tap filters for affected homes, as well as treatment for the children suffering from lead poisoning.
“We need to make sure this never happens again in any Michigan city,” Snyder said. “I give the people (of Flint) my commitment that Michigan will not let you down.”
Snyder’s plan to hold individuals accountable also included replacing the former director for the Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant with incoming DEQ director Keith Creagh, who said in an interview he agreed with the governor’s words regarding the need for change.
“As I came in as a new director there are some things we need to address within the department. We need a culture change, we need to start with the outcome in mind,” Creagh said. “And have our goal be safe, clean drinking water to all citizens. What matters is the delivery of clean, fresh, safe water to residents.”
In a statement released after the address, Karen Christian, president of United Teachers of Flint and a math intervention teacher at Potter Elementary School in Flint Community Schools, urged the governor to adopt a more detailed plan for helping residents.
“The health and educational challenges facing Flint students and families for years to come are serious and require a detailed plan to identify and address the various issues coming at us,” Christian said. “We must help students with the real impacts of lead poisoning, like learning disabilities and behavioral issues. Gov. Snyder and leaders in Lansing need to act on detailed plans that gets students continuous access to primary care, early childhood education and supplements like calcium, vitamin C and iron, which may help mitigate the impacts of lead poisoning.”
Highlighted additionally in Snyder’s address was an initiative to create a commission for building 21st century infrastructure in the state, aimed at finding out what the state needs and developing a plan on how to make the best investments.
“We need to get this right in Michigan for the long term,” Snyder said. “More than roads, we have a hidden problem… underground some pipes are over 100 years old. Out of sight out of mind until we have a water problem.”
Though Flint was the main focus of the address, Snyder also commented on the growth of Detroit in the past few years. He said violent crime is down 18 percent since 2010, derelict buildings are being torn down and electricity is spreading to once dark areas of the city. The city’s school system, however, faces mounting problems surrounding its current debt, which is currently at $515 million. Snyder said he plans to create a commission focused on 21st century education to address that debt and related issues statewide.
“As Detroit builds, it should give hope to other cities,” he said. “There is much more work that needs to be done, but progress is evident everywhere. Too many schools are failing at their central task… Let’s solve this problem and help the kids. The time to act is now.”
Snyder also touched on the state’s economy, noting that 232 jobs are added every day in the state. He acknowledged this growth doesn’t reach every town, saying he plans to provide towns still struggling with unemployment not just with not money but also people to help them get back on track.
Before Snyder’s remarks, the Michigan Democratic Party held a press conference denouncing both the governor and state Republicans for the Flint crisis and other issues, accusing Snyder and legislators of creating a culture of secrecy within the government.
“Secrecy and cover-ups create scandals like the poisoning of Flint’s children with lead and the throwing away of $134 million on new legislative offices the state doesn’t need and can’t afford,” said Brandon Dillon, chair of the Michigan Democratic party.
Snyder ended his remarks by committing to the state of Michigan to fix the problems he outlined, admitting to making mistakes during the last years of his term.
“Challenges we face in Flint, Detroit and beyond are serious but solvable,” he said. “The question is can we come together today. Every single citizen depends on us and we need to give them a better, brighter future. They deserve it.”
For state and federal Democrats, the reaction to the address was predominantly skeptical of Snyder’s plan for Flint’s future.
In a statement released by his office, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D–Mich.), condemned the governor’s plan for moving forward with the Flint crisis.
“While I was pleased to hear the Governor speak directly to the people of Flint, I believe the plan he outlined tonight fell short of what is needed to fully address the extensive needs of Flint residents suffering from lead exposure, especially Flint’s children,” Peters said.
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, echoed Peters’sentiments in a statement released Tuesday night, also highlighting the organization’s dedication to hold the state accountable.
“While it’s a good first step for the Governor to release these emails, Progress Michigan remains committed to advocating for a complete repeal of the exemption for the Governor and legislature in our FOIA laws,” Scott said. “It’s nice that now that the spotlight of national media is shining a light on Snyder’s failures that he decides to give lip service to transparency. We will continue to shine a spotlight on the Governor to encourage action and not just empty words.”