BY ANDREW SCHULMAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 18, 2012
LANSING — In his State of the State address last night, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder urged members of the state House and Senate to press forward on the progress they forged last year, claiming this year will be serve as an opportunity to profit from the foundation set in 2011.
Snyder presented promises for the upcoming year while reviewing failures of 2011, focusing primarily on the economy and innovation. He pledged that the opportunity was ripe for “Michigan 3.0” — “a new era of innovation” ushered in by a reinvention of the state.
“2011 was focused on dramatic policy improvements over a broken model of the past,” Snyder said in the speech. “We set a right course for the future. 2012 is about finishing that work, the work left over from 2011 and tackling a limited number of unaddressed challenges and really making this year about good government.”
During his address, Snyder spoke at length about what he believes to be effective government — a system that brings the state prosperity and serves its citizens — referencing last year’s accomplishments and this year’s ambitions.
Snyder praised last year’s budget, calling it “financially sound” in the face of tough choices and highlighted gains in the state’s economy. He noted that the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.3 percent in 2011, adding that the private sector created 80,000 jobs last year, spurring applause from legislators on both sides of the aisle.
Snyder praised Detroit Three automakers, claiming they re-established Detroit as the world’s automobile center since General Motors and Chrysler Group received government bailouts in 2009.
“The automotive industry has made a major comeback,” Snyder said. “Last week, I was at the North American (International) Auto Show, and I was proud to say Detroit is still the undisputed auto capital of the world.”
The governor said gains by the auto industry prove that the state’s economy is on the rise.
“We’re rebuilding Michigan’s image as a great place to do business,” he said. “We’re delivering on substance now, so it’s time to spread the message.”
Snyder subsequently announced trips to Europe and Asia this year to bring increased global business initiatives to the state.
Still, Snyder cautioned that the state is lacking in a few key indicators on his “Michigan Dashboard” — an index he created of the state’s performance in areas such as public safety and health.
He also touched on education, noting that while the state has improved, it is “unacceptable” that Michigan students proved to be only 1 percent more college-ready than they were last year.
“Our children are our future, and we need to make sure that they are not just college-ready but career-ready,” he said.
Snyder also announced two major statewide initiatives during his speech. The first, Pure Michigan Fit, a partnership between Gerber baby food, the Michigan Grocers Association and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, aims to curb childhood obesity.
The second initiative, he said, is a revamped public transit system for southeast Michigan currently in its planning stages. The city of Detroit, four surrounding countries and the U.S. Department of Transportation are participating in the planning process for a new light rail system. He said lack of an efficient transit system in the region has been a “persistent problem” and is “40 years overdue.”
Snyder also used his speech to speak more broadly on last year’s political shortcomings. He highlighted the State Senate’s failure to pass a proposal to build a bridge from Michigan to Canada.
“It’s not a bridge issue, it’s a jobs issue,” Snyder said. “Let’s not let special interests hold back a great opportunity for job creation, especially since this project can be done without any Michigan taxpayer dollars.”
Despite the progress he’s witnessed in the state over the past year, Snyder said Michigan’s attitude is still not optimistic enough and that it needs a change of culture.
“Simply put, we must reinvent our culture,” Snyder said. “We are still too negative, too divisive, and too many believe the best days are behind us. We need to be positive, inclusive and confident that Michigan holds a bright future for our children and their children.”
In an interview after the speech, state Rep. Mark Ouimet (R–Scio Township) said Snyder’s speech addressed the issues that state leaders and citizens should anticipate this year.
Ouimet pointed in particular to the growth of the state’s budget surplus and the southeast Michigan rail system as two important elements of the address.
“We all understand, to have a strong Detroit metropolitan area, you’ve got to have mass transit,” Ouimet said.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he was “disappointed” by the address, calling Snyder’s assessments “babble.”
Irwin said though the governor appeared to show concern about the future of education in the state, Snyder’s actions — referring to cuts to the state’s education appropriations — have proven otherwise.
“Out of one side of his mouth, he’s saying, ‘We need to do better with our schools, and I don’t know why my dashboard is saying that our schools are failing but we need to reverse this trend,’” Irwin said. “And then with his hands, he’s signing budgets that eviscerate the education budget and he is wondering why we’re failing.”
Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations, said in a statement that she would be examining next year’s budget for higher education appropriations carefully, which Snyder is expected to unveil in early February.
“At the University of Michigan we’ll be looking forward to more specific proposals for higher education, which will likely come in the governor’s budget message,” Wilbanks said.