Governor Snyder Addresses Higher Ed during Copper Country Visit
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Higher education is key to Michigan's economic well-being on more than one level, Governor Rick Snyder said Aug. 16 during a town hall meeting at The Bluffs, in Houghton.
"Certainly universities support the economy simply by educating our kids and giving them the skills they need to succeed in the marketplace," he said. "They also create jobs by commercializing research and starting businesses; Michigan Tech has been a leader in that area for a long time." In particular, the state's SmartZones--including the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation SmartZone--support economic development in partnership with universities.
President Glenn Mroz introduced the governor and said of him: "I've been impressed with his accessibility and willingness to listen, as well as his forthright responses to very difficult questions about the challenges facing the people of Michigan," Mroz said. "His willingness to confront brutal realities and make timely decisions stands in sharp contrast to the way similar issues are being handled by governments around the world today."
An audience member noted that the Snyder administration had cut appropriations for Michigan's public universities this year, while eliminating the Michigan Business Tax, which Snyder has called "the dumbest tax in the United States" for stifling job growth and imposing a greater tax burden on small business owners.
Reducing funding for universities was "a tough call," Snyder responded. "I hope we're at the end of these cuts, but we absolutely needed to create the climate for job creation and grow the pie so we can invest and build a strong future and quality of life for all."
The governor reviewed his vision for Michigan's future. "We need more and better jobs," he said. In particular, the state needs economic growth that will allow young people to remain in Michigan. But just fixing Michigan isn't enough, he said. In all kinds of state rankings, "we're ranked 50 of 50, or 47th of 50. We need to get back to number one. And we have the talent to do that."
To make such a shift, "everyone knew we needed change," he said, but change hasn't always been easy, especially when it involved cutting funding for favored government programs. However, he said, the results have been positive: a balanced state budget passed on schedule in May. "That hasn't happened in decades," he noted. Other accomplishments: "We added to the rainy day fund," which previously was so depleted it could only cover state expenses for about 30 minutes, he said. Meanwhile, the state has made progress funding its health care obligations and held steady on Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers. "I hope that Washington looks to Michigan as a role model," he said, as the state works with the federal government to lower costs while maintaining services.
He touched on K-12 education reform, noting that we have "great teachers and great administrators, but a broken system." When he came into office, only 16 percent of Michigan students were "college ready." That number has edged up to 17 percent, he said, but the state has a long way to go. He suggested a "master teacher" program to give stellar instructors an alternative career path training other teachers.
Over the next three months, the state will focus on health and wellness, infrastructure, and talent—"workforce development," he said. "Our greatest resource is the talented people of our state," he said. "I'm fired up about what we're doing," he said, promising "relentless positive action" to boost prosperity and create a culture of cooperation. "We don't blame anyone for anything. No one ever solved a problem by blaming someone"—or by taking credit for solving problems. "We will be relentless about taking these problems on so we don't leave them for our children."
That will require a change of attitude. "We've spent too much time looking in the rearview mirror," he said. "The key to success is us all coming together with an attitude that's positive, forward-looking and inclusive."
Snyder responded to several questions from the audience. When asked if the unemployment tax could be lessened, he noted that Michigan's unemployment fund has borrowed over $3 billion from the federal government and that his administration was working on a repayment strategy that would minimize the burden on employers.
He acknowledged that his administration had worked to eliminate all of Michigan's income tax credits in favor of a "simpler, fairer system. It had gotten out of control," he said, adding that credits had cost the state $500 million in tax revenue.
Snyder came down firmly on the side of extractive industries. "Let's go mine!" he said. "We've got the best, toughest regulations in the country. This is how we create jobs while remaining sensitive to the environment. Let's show the world we can do this the best."
On the environmental front, he said that green, renewable energy sources were costing utilities less than anticipated, and that energy conservation was also an individual responsibility. "It's about turning off the lights and being energy efficient ourselves," he said.
In closing, he stressed that he was focusing on the job at hand. "I'm not here to make flashes on the national stage," he said. "I've turned down most interview requests from national media." That said, he might be stepping out a bit more. "We're starting to spread the word about the good stuff we are doing in Michigan," he said.