Often, politicians are accused of sugarcoating messages and relying on buzzwords in public appearances. By skirting the issues at hand, they attempt to trick the public into excitement about their rhetoric and they ignore actual policy. The exhilarating exoskeleton of the speech becomes bigger than its substantive center. Last night, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder attempted to do just this during his second State of the State address. The governor’s tone underlined many positive changes in the state. The overall speech and call for “Michigan 3.0,” however, ignored many realities Michigan residents face and glossed over problems created by the Republican-controlled Legislature’s dramatic budget cuts.
There is no denying that many of the positive aspects of the State of the State address are commendable. Michigan’s unemployment rate shrunk from nearly 11.1 percent to 9.3 percent last year. While this figure still has considerable room for improvement, the progress creates an encouraging environment for businesses. Snyder also highlighted other successes including a push to end population flight, Michigan’s bond rating improving from “neutral” to “positive” and the continuation of former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s effort to increase foreign business partnership and investment.
All of the figures, however, weren’t as hopeful. Snyder pointed out that college readiness among Michigan students is 17 percent — a 1-percent improvement from last year. The governor said this “unacceptable” figure must increase to 100 percent.
An insistence that all Michigan students are prepared for higher education seems counterintuitive to Snyder’s actions. Last year, public funding to the University was cut by 15 percent — part of an unfortunate trend amounting to a 30-percent drop in funding over the past 10 years. The historic cut prompted 6.7-percent tuition increases for in-state students and a 4.9-percent hike for out-of-state students at the University. Funding reductions also resulted in higher tuition at public universities statewide. These drastic tuition hikes make higher education less accessible for a state still financially struggling.
Synder has played a significant role in facilitating less-affordable education in Michigan. Championing college readiness holds little merit while working against college affordability.
The state Legislature was quick and efficient last year, Snyder pointed out several times in his speech. They passed 323 acts and a “sensible” budget. Painting this picture of a harmonious and economical Legislature ignored that it’s much easier to move quickly when the governor, House and Senate are controlled by the same party. For the first time in years, Michigan has a budget surplus, but at the expense of many public services and programs that help lower-income residents. Republican-led tax restructuring gave tax credits to corporations and favored out-of-state businesses. These measures were hardly bipartisan.
It was bold of the governor to take credit for Michigan’s new anti-bullying law. This legislation nearly included an exemption for bullying grounded in religious belief — legalized bullying of LGBT students. Thankfully, this provision was removed before the bill passed.
Snyder does have reason to take a positive tone. Michigan’s economic turnaround is foreseeable. He can’t forget, however, the long-run benefit of investment in higher education and that all of Michigan’s citizens — regardless of class, sexual orientation or political affiliation — must be involved in creating Michigan 3.0.