Republican Gov. Rick Snyder discussed job growth, the slash and later uptick of state funding for higher education, sexual assault on college campuses and views on same-sex marriage in a conference call Wednesday.
Student journalists from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University and Saginaw Valley State University were on the call. Throughout the Snyder campaign, outreach efforts to the public have increased. While Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land has avoided public speeches and interviews with the press, Snyder participated in a town hall debate earlier this week. He and Land previously denied requests for debate.
At the beginning of the call, Snyder addressed economic growth in Michigan, saying that under his administration, the state added around 300,000 private sector jobs. He said college students were key in ensuring the state continues to grow.
“You’re our future,” Snyder said. “I want to make sure that we can make sure we can make college and higher ed more affordable for people because we want to encourage people to get the skills, the training, the resources to be successful and have a great career in our state. We have lots of exciting job opportunities in Michigan and one of the keys is to make sure you have the right skills to fill those.”
Questions focused on state appropriations to higher education. In 2011, Snyder cut 15 percent of funding to public higher education institutions. Gradual increases in funding have followed the initial cut: 3.1 percent increase in 2012; 2.2 percent in 2013; and 6.1 percent in 2014.
Snyder said increases to the higher education budget link to the overall growth of Michigan’s economy.
“I think you’ll find that the university leaders over this last budget were fairly pleased on where we were heading,” Snyder said. “I actually sent the message that as the recovery of our economy keeps up, I hope to restore what we had in place and actually add more revenue to the universities. So we’re trying to be proactive about that.”
He said the initial cut to higher education was difficult, but necessary to balance the state budget.
“When I took office, I faced a $1.5 billion budget deficit, so we did have to make a cut to the higher ed. budget that first year in order to balance the budget which was difficult,” Snyder said.
He added that he was interested in developing a collaborative process through which universities and the government could work together on managing the institutions’ budgets. Universities could mimic municipalities’ economizing IT systems, enterprise platforms and contract negotiations for lower costs of goods services.
When budget cuts began in 2011, The Michigan Daily reported the University would reduce costs by $100 million by 2012 and another $120 million by 2017. Former University Provost Philip Hanlon, now president of Dartmouth College, said the University combined IT units to save $7 million, as Snyder suggested.
Former University President Mary Sue Coleman testified in 2011 State Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Higher Education in Lansing that, while cutting costs, the University was dedicated to ensure tuition continued to be affordable.
University undergraduate tuition from the academic years 2011-2012 to 2014-2015 differs by $718 for Michigan residents, and $1,995 for non-residents.
Snyder said in the conference call that he wanted to place more emphasis on need-based tuition. Current high school students could also consider dual-enrollment, and earn college credits while in school. This could save a year or greater of college tuition.
The governor avoided direct answers on queries concerning pay equity and same-sex marriage. Asked if he was planning to support legislation to address Michigan’s wage gap, in which women earn 74 cents for every dollar men earn, Snyder said his administration “work(s) hard” with all sectors of industry to ensure pay equity.
“That’s where I think the law is pretty clear, people should already get the same pay so we want to work on making sure we achieve that,” Snyder said.
Democrats have criticized his lack of action on this issue. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) most recently addressed this in a West Michigan campaign stop this month.
“You can stand up and say, ‘I support equal pay,’ but if you’re not willing to put teeth into the law and enforce it, it doesn’t count,” Stabenow said.
Snyder also did not articulate a stance on same-sex marriage. A March 2014 ruling by the district court deemed same-sex marriage legal in Michigan, though Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) asked for an emergency stay on this the next day and brought it the court of appeals.
Democrats have panned the Republican response to same-sex marriage, and Snyder has not taken a definitive stance on the issue. He said any legislative action to change the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage would come too late, as the courts are likely to soon produce a decision on gay marriage.
“I’m waiting for the court decision,” he said.
However, Snyder said he is “encouraging action” on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which halts discrimination in housing and employment and protects the LGBT community.
“I don’t believe in discrimination,” Snyder said. “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.”
Snyder also made mention of sexual assault on college campuses. While no piece of legislation specifically deals with this topic, Snyder discussed bills that address sexual assault as a whole in the state, such as legislation passed Tuesday establishing rules for the submission and collection of sexual assault kit evidence. He said rape on college campuses is an issue.
“That’s a real concern because there’s too much of that going on,” Snyder said. “It’s a discussion point and concern that I think we’re trying to gather data and work with the higher ed. community in particular and seeing what the situation is and how we can make our campuses safer.”