Despite his claims of being a political outsider, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address delivered more of the same watered-down rhetoric. In his hour-long speech, Snyder focused on the state’s accomplishments in the past year, emphasizing Michigan’s now-stabilized economy. However, rather than outlining a definitive vision for the state’s future, the governor spoke in generalities. Michigan is at a crossroads in its recovery, and Snyder missed the opportunity to discuss several key issues that will significantly affect the state’s economy. In 2013, Snyder needs to provide the public with specific plans rather than the vague goals he outlined in his address.
In his speech, Snyder introduced “the new big three” — the auto industry, agriculture and tourism. This departure from the traditional automotive Big Three — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — highlights a nuanced understanding of Michigan’s economy, without leaving the automotive companies behind. Specifically, Snyder’s emphasis on tourism through the expansion of the Pure Michigan brand proves the governor is paying attention to a growing, sustainable industry. According to Snyder, revenues from Michigan tourism grew by $500 million in the last year alone, while hotel room occupancy and rates continue to rise. The governor also stressed improvements in outdoor facilities and parks, mentioning the development of water recreation in Grand Rapids. Focusing on tourism has not only been effective in bringing new people to Michigan, but in recapturing residents’ pride in their home state and promoting between residents.
Snyder spent a great deal of his speech emphasizing the rebuilding of Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure, proposing more than $1 billion in new funding for repair projects. As necessary as it is to rebuild the state’s notoriously broken highways and roads, Snyder ignored the real issue Michiganders are craving action on: public transportation. The governor’s address briefly mentioned the Regional Transit Authority and its new head, DTE executive Paul Hillegonds, but he failed to specifically discuss the state’s ailing need for expanded public transit. The concept of a light rail system has been steadily gaining traction, and a reference from the governor in his most important speech of the year could have galvanized further action. Improving our roads is certainly important and helpful to residents, but an affordable, efficient system of public transportation is what will push Michigan forward.
What was most apparent during the State of the State wasn’t anything that Snyder said, but rather everything he didn’t say. Despite massive protests in Lansing over the state legislature’s lame duck session, which saw the passage of right-to-work and restrictions on abortion, the governor never mentioned the new laws. If Snyder is going to support such divisive policies, he needs to own up to them. Instead, he hid from the defining moments of his governorship, failing to address several key issues. Along with the more than 40 bills he signed into law since December, Snyder also failed to mention funding for higher education, Detroit’s precarious fiscal situation, the renewed battle over emergency managers and the growing gun debate. In the next year, Snyder needs to communicate a clear, specific vision for re-energizing Michigan that addresses the state’s most pressing concerns.