LANSING Last night”s State of the State address seemed to leave many state legislators and officers feeling good about the future of political civility between parties an attitude they seem to be striving for within the state government.
Many of the items on Gov. John Engler”s agenda for the “Next Michigan,” including a proposal that would affect the University of Michigan, were presented as issues for the Legislature to consider and discuss on a bipartisan level.
“I think this ties nicely to what the speaker and the minority leader have been trying to establish a less confrontive atmosphere,” said Rep. John Hansen (D-Dexter).
Engler proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow a governor to appoint seven additional members to the eight-member governing boards of the state”s three largest universities Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State as well as the State Board of Education. Engler emphasized that the proposal, if enacted, would not go into effect until after his term as governor ends in 2002 and would forbid naming more than four people from one party to each board.
“This plan strengthens existing boards by vastly expanding the pool of qualified candidates,” Engler said. “Board service should not be limited only to those willing to run on a party ticket.”
But many Democrats, including Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.), said the proposal would not benefit the universities.
“Loading the Board of Regents really does dilute the power of the people,” Smith said.
Rep. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland) said he is forgoing final judgment until he sees the actual proposed plan but feels the idea would “allow more people to have input.”
The proposal tied in with Engler”s support of state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver”s “modified federal plan” to appoint all members of the court similar to the way in which federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A constitutional amendment was introduced to the state Senate on Tuesday by Sen. Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville).
Another part of Engler”s plan that would directly affect Ann Arbor is to establish Michigan as another “Silicon Valley.” Speaking about the development of the second-generation Internet, dubbed “Internet 2,” Engler said he wanted its leadership team “to make Ann Arbor their permanent home.”
“Our message to Internet 2,” he said: “Go Blue!”
“That”s going to be a real real big plus for us. The spillover is just going to be a huge plus for my district,” said Rep. Laura Toy (R-Livonia).
Engler, who several times noted that taxes in the state have been continuously dropping, proposed efforts to attract high-tech companies.
“Let”s put out the welcome mat and exempt them from Michigan”s state business tax,” he said.
“He”s trying to develop a whole corridor of high-technology from Ann Arbor to Wayne State,” said Sen. Mat Dunaskiss (R-Lake Orion).
Although many Democrats said they found Engler”s plans for high-technology uplifting, some expressed reservations that the Engler administration was moving too quickly away from problems that still exist.
There are more important reasons to move to a state than tax cuts, said House Minority Leader Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit, adding that those need to be worked out before focus is transferred to less pressing issues.
“Before we go to the next we need to deal with the now,” Kilpatrick said.
Rep. Jack Minore (D-Flint), the assistant minority floor leader, said in order to attract high-tech companies, Michigan would be better off with fewer tax cuts and more educated workers.
“High-tech companies tend to locate where there is a good workforce,”he said.
Engler admitted that not everything is perfect. Making education once again his top priority, the governor said there are 208 schools in which three out of four children cannot read.
“Here he has been in office for 10 years and he is concerned about 208 schools,” Smith said. “What has he been doing for the last 10 years?”
Michigan has fixed many of the problems that plagued the state in the 1980s and “90s, said Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus. “Now we can go on to the next generation of issues that can bring people together.”