Republican Gov. Rick Snyder gave his State of the State address Tuesday evening, emphasizing state and local growth over the past four years, community-based reforms and the “river of opportunity.” While Snyder’s speech was commendable in its recognition of previous achievements and idealistic goals, he neglected to expand on the substantial steps needed to create a better future for the state of Michigan.
During the past four years, the state has made significant improvements as outlined by Snyder. Housing values have increased by 25 percent compared to the national average of 16 percent; out-of-state tourism has increased by over $2 million in the past four years; the agricultural industry has hit an unprecedented benchmark of more than $100 billion in economic activity; unemployment has decreased to 6.7 percent; and over 300,000 private-sector jobs have been created in the last four years.
Snyder similarly praised efforts to improve transportation with a special focus on Michigan’s roads, pointing out that many create conditions that are hazardous for driving. Of course, improvements to Michigan’s roads are severely needed according to Snyder, with one in nine bridges in the state being structurally deficient. However, Snyder made no mention of how the legislature would go about actually making these improvements. Furthermore, the governor neglected to address the controversial M-1 rail, currently under construction in Detroit, with an estimated cost of $137 million.
In his speech, Snyder also highlighted that since 2010, there has been a 48 percent increase in automotive production. While the state is currently enjoying the benefits of the revived industry, it is important to note that it’s unreasonable to rely on the automotive industry for economic prosperity. Michigan saw the consequences of such dependence in the 2008 automotive industry crisis. To pivot itself for an economically successful future, the state should look to invest in other industries, such as science and technology fields.
Snyder’s State of the State included, in a large part, the presentation of his “river of opportunity” plan, intended to increase the ability of Michigan residents to achieve multi-faceted opportunities, including educational attainment and economic stability. While laying out this plan for the state, Snyder harped on increasing the efficiency of government and its respective programs, many of which he deemed to be unnecessary, ineffective and not focusing on the “real people” that they are targeting.
In addition to this critique of inefficiency, Snyder stated that communities play a much larger role in aiding the issues within communities, forming a “village of support” with the government fading into the background. Snyder stated that the creation of 145 new programs since the 1940s has not targeted “real people” and has simply created inefficiencies within the government that aren’t helping the citizens they intended to serve. It’s improbable that the majority of people would disagree with the statement that the government is currently bloated, with bureaucratic red tape serving as an impediment to progress, but the government can do things that a community simply cannot.
While governmental involvement is an issue that should be dealt with, the government can’t stick to the sidelines when dealing with issues such as food availability and access to education, especially in regions and communities where resources are scarce. Detroit, for example, is a food desert, with access to quality food just now making its way into parts of the city with the construction of new grocery stores. Public subsidies and tax breaks were used to make these stores, such as Whole Foods, viable, bringing down the cost to build locations in Detroit. Creating a “village of support” in a community such as urban Detroit, one stricken with poverty and violence, and expecting government to fade into the background while that community fixes its own food availability crisis is a completely untenable plan. Increasing government efficiency should not reduce the ability of citizens to get the kind of assistance and aid they so badly need in order to make it to the “mainstream” of the “river of opportunity.”
Snyder’s only mention of higher education was in his discussion on middle colleges — a high-school program that allows for students to affordably attain a high-school diploma and community college degree from the same school. His failure to discuss college affordability as a whole is neglectful to a significant issue facing the state of Michigan and country. According to a study by youth advocacy group Young Invincibles, Michigan ranks as the third-worst state nationwide in higher education investment. While Snyder’s administration has slowly increased higher education funding after it was cut by 15 percent in 2011, this ranking reveals deep concerns regarding his commitment to fostering an educated citizenry. His no-comment during the State of the State perpetuates this perception.
Similarly, Snyder’s discussion of energy issues lacked the direction it required. Snyder mentioned he wanted to eliminate energy waste, exploit the state’s natural gas resources and focus on renewable energy solutions. To do this, he intends to create a state energy agency in order to consolidate the effort on creating viable energy policy for the future. However, he failed to answer key questions such as what his plans are for natural gas. Whether the plan is to export natural gas or invest the resources within the state, it’s disappointing Snyder did not outline the groundwork for Michigan’s energy future appropriately. The lack of details in the State of the State address only serve to heighten the expectations for Snyder’s special message on energy in March.