LANSING In his last State of the State address, Gov. John Engler said yesterday that although Michigan is facing numerous challenges especially on the economic and homeland defense fronts it is prepared to meet them.

Paul Wong

“Mr. Tax Cut” as he is known for pushing through numerous reductions in the state income tax during his 12-year reign in the governor”s office promptly ended any speculation that he would favor a temporary postponement of cuts in the income tax and single business tax.

Amid the economic downturn and massive layoffs at several of the state”s largest employers, Engler sounded optimistic while unequivocally stating his position on current tax policy.

“It will be work, but if we all go the extra mile, we may be able to help those companies and keep those tax cuts rolling,” he said. His remarks were answered with thunderous applause and cheers from the left side of the aisle, where most of Legislature”s Republicans were seated, and mostly silence from the Democrats on the right side.

Engler also used his speech to thank those who have helped protect the state from terrorism and aided in the war on terror, including members of the Michigan National Guard and state police officers, and also the head of state.

“On behalf of the people of Michigan, I”d like to thank our commander in chief, President George W. Bush, and all our men in uniform, serving in Afghanistan and around the world,” he said. “Thank you for a job well done.”

The House chamber then erupted in loud chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Engler also used the annual address to encourage the Legislature to move two of his priorities forward.

As expected, he encouraged lawmakers to support his plan for a larger state role in expanding high-speed Internet access to Michiganians, citing it as imperative to keeping Michigan ahead of other states in terms of economic development and overall well-being.

“If Michigan fails to seize this opportunity, if we fail to adapt, we risk becoming as irrelevant as the horse and buggy,” he said.

Segueing into his second proposal, Engler added, “Incentives can help, but even more helpful would be removing some of the burdens and barriers that have been imposed by Washington and other states.”

The term-limited Republican governor encouraged Congress to tell Environmental Protection Agency regulators to get out of the way on development of hydrogen fuel-cell technology, an innovation he said would keep Michigan at the forefront of auto manufacturing.

Engler also touted Michigan as “a high-technology state a state of science. In addition to mentioning the

development of the Life Sciences Corridor, the governor announced a bid to attract a $1 billion facility to Michigan State University.

The Rare Isotope Accelerator “will be the world”s leading facility for research in nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics.”

Democrats wasted no time in criticizing the governor and blamed him for the current budget problems in the state.

House Minority Leader Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit) blamed Engler and his GOP compatriots in the Legislature for the current budget crisis and criticized him for not addressing the large tuition increases at the state”s public and private universities.

“We failed to invest in programs that will help us weather these inevitable storms, wasting our economic prosperity on fell-good programs that left us vulnerable to the very problem we currently face,” he said.

Rep. Jack Minore (D-Flint) said not pausing the planned reductions in the income and single business taxes would cause higher tuition for students at the state”s higher education institutions. The lack of revenue limits the amount of state appropriations the schools would receive, and Minore said a sacrifice of “pennies per day” would help alleviate the current budget woes.

“The pennies they”re saving are inevitably doing great damage to the programs the future of this state,” he said.

Engler, leaving state office after 30 years in the governor”s office and Legislature, including a stint as Senate Republican leader, said it was his pleasure to serve the state. He pointed at the ceiling tiles in the House chamber, one for each state in the Union, to reiterate his belief in giving more power to states, something that has been a theme of his three terms as governor.

“They remind us, first and foremost, they are strong, vigilant, independent states that”s what makes America great.”

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