Michigan will lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives next year due to 2010 U.S. Census results that show a 0.6-percent decline in the state’s population.
The decrease in population didn’t come as a surprise to most Michigan politicians who say Michigan’s continuing economic struggle presents a struggle for keeping residents in the state. And because of the decrease in Michigan residents, officials foresee a reduction in federal funding to the state — something that will also affect financial support for Michigan’s universities.
State Rep. Mark Ouimet (R–Lyndon Twp.) said Michigan’s economic difficulties hinder its ability to attract new citizens. The lagging economy, therefore, leads to a lower state population, which resulted in the drop in congressional seats.
According to the census website, Michigan had the largest decline in population among all states.
“We have a high tax rate that drives people away, and the unemployment drives people away and the lack of opportunity drives people away,” Ouimet said. “States that are more pro-business are the ones to gain congressional seats.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) echoed Ouimet, saying that a weak economy stalls population growth. Michigan is lacking the public goods, services and “vitality” that drive such growth, Irwin said.
Michigan is failing to demonstrate a high quality of life in the state, Irwin added. This problem is exacerbated by Detroit’s deteriorating appeal as a large and successful city for students, employees and retirees, he said.
“I think our problem here in Michigan is that Detroit used to be that big city that really anchored the state,” Irwin said. “There were opportunities in the city, not just for employment, but for art. There was a lot of vitality, and that vitality is what a lot of people leave for because we have sucked that vitality out.”
Irwin added that the population drop and subsequent loss of a seat in Congress is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the state, citing the potential difficulty in obtaining federal grants or receiving attention in national elections.
“It means less opportunities to win support for transportation projects and service projects, and most importantly, for Ann Arbor research grants,” Irwin said.
To combat these issues, state politicians are aiming to retain college graduates, carry out more transportation projects and make the state’s tax laws more appealing to businesses.
Many businesses in the state oppose the Michigan Business Tax because of its 22-percent surcharge. Recently inaugurated Republican Gov. Rick Snyder also supports a repeal of the Michigan Business Tax.
In order to bring more jobs to the state, Irwin said he is working to introduce a bill to appropriate state funds to the high-speed rail project that would create transportation between Kalamazoo, Mich. and Dearborn, Mich. The project has already received $150 million in federal aid.
Though Irwin and Ouimet spoke of upcoming projects like the high-speed rail corridor and rebuilding the East Stadium Bridge in Ann Arbor, Public Policy Prof. John Chamberlin said residents will likely be kept waiting for these improvements.
“I think the state is in such bad shape, they’re going to have to cut (the budget in) nearly every place (possible),” Chamberlin said. “There are going to be fewer opportunities to secure funding at the state and federal level for projects.”
Chamberlin said universities often make other adjustments — like raising tuition — when federal and state funding isn’t sufficient.
“Tuition will probably go up and continue to,” Chamberlin said. “On the other hand, Ann Arbor’s economy is in much better shape than most of the economies (in the state).”
Ouimet said the asset of a young student population and the start-up companies that arise from universities will be the state’s “economic engine” for growth in the coming years. In addition, he said research grants received by the universities help to maintain research programs that attract both scientists and businesses to cities home to the Michigan’s universities.
Though most state representatives are calling for economic recovery, Chamberlin said the state legislature will likely be distracted by the upcoming redistricting, or redrawing of district lines, that will determine the districts of the new U.S. representatives.
He added that with Republicans in control of the state’s legislative and executive branches, redistricting will most likely become an effort to weaken Democratic representatives’ strength within their constituencies. He also noted that Republicans might attempt to build their majority in districts where their party won by a close margin.
“It shouldn’t be that hard for the Republicans to redraw to knock out one more Democrat,” Chamberlin said. “(They can) pit two Democrats against one another, that’s what they did last time (in 2000).”
U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Ann Arbor) wrote in a Dec. 21, 2010 press release that in the past, party differences in the state legislature have gotten in the way of providing the best results for Michigan residents when it comes to redistricting.
“I hope that Michigan’s state legislature and all those involved with redistricting rise above the partisan fray and put the people of Michigan first,” Dingell wrote.