As the election approaches, the self-proclaimed “comeback kid” of Michigan, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, hopes to return for a second term.
A central theme of his campaign has been continuing to build a solid foundation for Michigan’s economic revitalization. In a conference call to college students earlier this month, Snyder highlighted his plans to create 300,000 new private sector jobs. This expansion is in addition to the $1.1 billion investment Snyder has made in K-12 education, and the elimination of the state’s $1.5 billion deficit.
Higher Education Funding
When Snyder took office in 2011, he faced a severe $1.4 billion shortfall in the state budget, which resulted in a controversial 15-percent cut to higher education funding.
Since then, he has, gradually raised state funding for education every fiscal year until it meets the original rate, raising it 3.1 percent in 2012, 2.2 percent in 2013 and 6.1 percent in 2014. Schauer, campaigning as the “education governor,” focused his campaign on Snyder’s initial cuts, arguing that the Governor has taken too long to return to pre-cut levels and promising a efforts to reverse the cuts if elected. However, universities across the state, including Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, have responded well to Snyder’s series of increases after the initial cut.
In addition, Snyder has altered the way that appropriations will be allocated to universities in 2015. The plan for 2015 will factor in key criteria such as administrative costs, the number of students receiving Pell Grants, tuition caps, the school’s work in research and development, along with six-year graduation rates, overall graduation rates and degree completion in critical areas.
Schools have supported the metrics program in the past. The criteria in previous years did not include Pell Grants as a metric, though, and universities, such as Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University, voiced concerns over this omission. Without it, the universities said, the metrics did not account for the income gap between schools. Snyder’s addition of Pell Grants as a measurement for eased tensions.
In the conference call, Snyder said he hopes to create a new system similar to that of municipalities, which economized IT systems’ enterprise platforms. This system would allow for better collaboration between the government and the universities when negotiating budgets.
To ensure that public universities would not respond to the education cuts by dramatically raising tuition, in 2011, Snyder reintroduced former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm’s tuition restraints, which put a cap on how much a university can increase its tuition cost every year.
The current cap in place for the 2014-2015 school year is 3.75 percent. Next year the cap will drop to 3.2 percent. To compensate, Snyder is increasing state appropriations for higher education by 6.1 percent.
Snyder has been repeatedly criticized by the Democrats for not taking more action to combat pay discrimination against women. The governor, in the conference call, emphasized that he “work(s) hard” in all areas to promote equal pay. Last year he stated that he would be open to a discussion on the issue, but so far has not offered a specific plan.
Last March, a district court ruling made same-sex marriage legal in Michigan. In response, Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) filed for an appeal and an emergency stay on the decision. Snyder did not state his stance on same sex marriage then, nor in the conference call. However he did say at the time that the marriages, albeit legal, will not be recognized in the state of Michigan.
He referenced his support for the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act — which prevented discrimionation toward the LGBTQ community workplace in housing and employment.
“I’m being proactive in terms of the employment discrimination issue in part because that is something that can be addressed from the legislative point of view,” he said.
Over his term, Snyder said he has made the environment a priority. His first move was working with universities to study and monitor the environment to better assess what precautions should be taken to combat ecological threats. Allocating money to help fight the spread of invasive species, specifically, Asian carp, into the 2014 budget was another step, along with Snyder’s plans to increase mass transit rail and hiking trails.
Snyder was the catalyst for reuniting the Council of Great Lakes Governors in 2013, which previously had not convened for eight years. The Council works together to make regional decisions relating to the Great Lakes region.
Some, however, do not believe the governor is doing enough to protect the environment. The nonpartisan Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which gives out letter grades to politicians for how they vote on environmental issues, gave Snyder a “C” on their How Green is Your Governor? Midterm Report Card. He received an “A” in the transportation category, praising his transit rail, but an “F” in toxics and hazardous chemicals, denouncing his signing of Senate Bill 450, which defunded the DEQ programs that reduced the harms of hazardous chemicals, moving that money into air quality control instead.