Amidst an economic downturn that’s hit the state of Michigan especially hard and dropping approval ratings, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm will give her last State of the State address tonight in Lansing.
Each year the governor is required to give the address to a joint session of the Michigan House and Senate and report his or her plans and priorities for the coming year. This is Granholm’s eighth and, because of term limits, final year in office.
In recent interviews, state legislators, University experts and campus political group leaders said they expect the governor will discuss her reform initiatives to battle Michigan’s current economic troubles before she leaves office next year.
Among the state’s most pressing concerns is its unemployment rate, which currently stands at 14.3 percent as of December — the worst unemployment rate in the country — according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, the state’s 2010 budget has a $2.8 billion shortfall, according to The Associated Press.
State Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) said she anticipates Granholm will discuss how to expand employment opportunities for Michigan citizens and prevent them from facing further financial difficulties.
“I think (Granholm) will address major issues concerning Michigan and the state of the economy, such as the need to create job security for Michigan citizens, and other economic insecurities, such as that danger of losing one’s home, and all sorts of other economic perils that are facing the citizens of the state of Michigan,” she said.
Donald Grimes, senior research associate at the University’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy, said he thinks Granholm will discuss a budget plan and the future of Michigan employees’ pay and benefits.
“The first thing that she’s going to have to do is basically lay out some very tough medicine in terms of the budget, in terms of both the state and local government employees and what’s going to happen to their wages and benefits, and in terms of the services that the population wants and expects from state and local government,” he said.
Grimes said he agrees with the criticism Granholm has faced regarding her passivity in office and her lack of aggression in tackling the state’s economic affairs. He said it has been difficult for Granholm to tell people “stuff they’re not going to want to hear” with regards to dealing with budget issues.
“For someone who describes the governor as being too nice, I think in some ways that’s actually an apt description of some of the problems she’s faced over the last seven years,” he said.
State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D–Lyndon Twp.) said she thinks Granholm will express her ideas for reforms in the state and will try and let the public know she wants to hear the concerns and voices of all Michiganders.
“She’s a pretty strong person and I think she is going to make the case that we need to be taking these steps, that we are listening more and more to the people (who) say that they want government reform,” Byrnes said. “I think she is going to say that we need to be responding to this and the times have changed since the last 10 or 15 years and we need to be making those changes.”
Samuel Marvin, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said he believes Granholm did the best she could during a time of such economic despair.
“We see in Michigan and on the national level that as soon as somebody’s a leader during a tough time, they’re going to take a lot of criticism,” he said. “And especially in Jennifer Granholm’s case, there was nothing she could have done to have prevented this. She did everything she could and has done everything she has been able to do to mitigate the job losses in Michigan.”
Marvin said he anticipates that Granholm will talk about how to increase employment opportunities in Michigan, especially the creation of more jobs through environmental initiatives.
“(Granholm) talks a lot about advanced manufacturing of batteries, hybrid technology, bringing green jobs to Michigan, green energy, stuff like that,” he said. “All things which are really cool because it’s something that could put people back to work rather quickly because we already have the base here — the manufacturing base.”
Charles Bogren, co-chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said his biggest hope for Granholm’s address is that she will discuss steps to get rid of or decrease the Michigan Business Tax — an unpopular tax among companies in the state, he says.
“I really hope she would cut the Michigan Business Tax, or just get rid of it altogether,” he said. “That would be the number one thing for me. But understanding that she’s a Democrat, at the very least, I’d like to see her lower the tax rates on these businesses because it’s such a strain on both corporations big and small that are trying to stay afloat on a bad national economy, let alone Michigan’s.”