Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver his eighth and final State of the State address Tuesday night, when he’ll urge legislators to support his goals for the year amid a growing impasse over tax cuts that last week prompted a rare veto override.
Seven years after the Ann Arbor Republican rode a wave of economic discontent to a general election victory, the speech will give Snyder one of his last major stages to tout the state’s “economic comeback” while trying to discourage the GOP-led Legislature from changing course on fiscal policy.
The state has added more than 540,000 private-sector jobs under Snyder, according to the latest data from the administration, and economists are predicting sluggish wage growth to improve because of a tight labor force market with the state’s 4.7 percent unemployment rate. But selling the comeback story has proven a challenge for Snyder in the wake of the Flint water contamination crisis, a false-fraud unemployment insurance scandal and other government failures for which he has shouldered at least partial blame.
A majority of Michigan voters said the state is doing the same (33 percent) or is worse off (26 percent) than when Snyder took office in 2011, according to a new poll of 600 likely Michigan voters conducted by the Glengariff Group Inc. and provided to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV. Just 34.5 percent said the state is better off in the Jan. 16-19 poll, which had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.
“Voters have short memories,” said pollster Richard Czuba. “I think there is recognition that some things have improved, but I think it’s a balancing act where voters are saying some things are better and some things aren’t.”
As Snyder enters the final year of his tenure, 41 percent of voters said Michigan is on the right track and poised for improvement, compared with 37 percent who said the state is on the wrong track. More than 50 percent said Detroit, which Snyder helped lead through bankruptcy in 2013 and 2014, is on the right track.
Snyder is relatively unpopular, with 48 percent of Michigan voters saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the term-limited governor, compared with 36 percent who have a favorable view, according to the poll, which included a mix of 65 percent landline and 35 percent cellphone interviews. Just 12 percent of black voters had a favorable opinion of the governor.
But voters are split on whether Snyder is doing a good job. About 43 percent said they approve of his performance compared with 42 percent who do not, a difference that falls within the survey’s margin of error.
“When you get into your final year, voters are tired of you and there’s fatigue,” Czuba said, noting Snyder’s approval ratings among some voting blocs never fully recovered from the Flint water crisis. “I think he deserves a little bit of credit he’s breaking even.”
The poll comprised 42 percent Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 24 percent independents, reflecting a higher interest in voting this November by Democrats and independents, Czuba said.
Expected speech topics
In his speech to the Legislature Tuesday night, Snyder is expected to publicly discuss what he’s been teasing as a “Marshall Plan for Talent,” an ambitious proposal to prepare kids for the jobs of the future that will also be a focal part of his budget presentation next month.
As The News reported two weeks ago, the plan will likely include new computer science scholarships, school and university grants, K-12 teacher training and child care for technology workers, according to details shared as part of Detroit’s failed bid to land Amazon’s second North American headquarters.
Beyond the talent plan — which he’ll need legislators to approve and fund — the administration is keeping Snyder’s annual address under wraps.
“You can expect a focus on the economic comeback of the last seven years, the categories in which Michigan is leading the nation, civility and the governor’s goals for his last year in office,” spokeswoman Anna Heaton said ahead of the Tuesday night speech.
Snyder last year urged the Legislature to consider public and private options to fund infrastructure repairs, warning that aging sewer and pipe systems in “every corner” of the state are at risk of failure. He may return to that theme Tuesday after lawmakers largely ignored his message.
While Democratic and GOP leaders have said they’re interested in working with Snyder on the talent plan, they have their own priorities. These include plans to cut individual income taxes by expanding the state’s personal exemption and creating new credits for seniors or parents with children.
Seven years after slashing business taxes, the accountant governor has warned lawmakers of looming budget pressures and urged them to specify any spending cuts to pay for expected revenue losses from their tax-cutting plans. But the Legislature bucked the governor last week by overriding his veto on a bill to speed up a sales tax cut for residents who trade in a used vehicle to get a new one.
Snyder does not have the “clout” he had in 2011 when some freshmen lawmakers road his coattails into office, said political pundit and former GOP state lawmaker Bill Ballenger.
“It’s not like they want to stick it to Snyder,” he said. “It’s just that they have their own very strong agenda, and it’s sometimes at odds with Snyder’s.”
The veto override was the first since 2002, when a GOP-led Legislature reversed a cut in local government aid by then-Gov. John Engler, also a Republican. Experts said the tax policy dispute does not mean Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature will fail to reach consensus on other issues.
“They both need to be able to show successes in 2018 — for different reasons,” said Dave Dulio, chairman of the political science department at Oakland University. “The governor has got his legacy to think about, and the Legislature has elections to think about. Republicans will have a hard enough time this election cycle, but if they’re unproductive in Lansing, it’s going to be even harder.”
Democrats helped Republicans override Snyder’s veto and joined them in approving the personal exemption tax cut plan in the Senate, a rare and unanimous bipartisan act on a major bill. Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, was not concerned about any potential impact on relations with the governor.
“I still meet with him, talk with him and work with him on a number of things,” Ananich said after the override vote.
Talent plan prospects
Snyder’s talent plan could be ripe for bipartisan compromise, said John Truscott, a public relations consultant and former spokesman for Engler. He noted Detroit’s questionable ability to attract talent was one reason the city did not make the list of 20 cities, announced last week, still in the running to host Amazon’s headquarters.
A state planning document provided to the city for the Amazon bid highlighted $95 million in potential spending Snyder’s team claimed would “fill our talent pool with over 126,000 highly skilled and qualified IT workers by 2030.”
Proposals included $15 million to create a “talent promise” scholarship for computer science students, $15 million for colleges and universities to upgrade curriculum, $10 million to train new K-12 teachers, $15 million in grants to help high schools and colleges launch new information technology programs and $10 million for new apprenticeship programs targeting veterans, women and minorities.
The Snyder administration also outlined $15 million in potential spending to create a “subscription based public-private partnership to provide low cost child care options to tech workers,” with an initial pilot program focused on downtown Detroit and up to three “satellite facilities in surrounding communities.”
“The education level and lack of talent is hurting the state when it comes to big decisions, so that one is non-partisan,” Truscott said. “It really is about, how do we improve things for the future of the state and people who live here?”
Truscott helped Engler craft State of the State speeches and called it a “brutal process” because of the preparation that is required. Some governors use their final address to “memorialize” their legacy, Truscott said, but he expects Snyder to go beyond that.
“I sense this governor is a little different,” Truscott said. “He’s always about looking forward and not worrying about the past.”
In a poll for The Detroit News and WDIV, Michigan’s likely voters said the state is the same or in worse shape than when Gov. Rick Snyder took office in 2011, but is on the right track.
Don’t know: 6.7%
Right or wrong track?
Right track: 41%
Wrong track: 37%
Don’t know: 22%
Note: Some results don’t equal 100 percent because of rounding. Margin of error: plus-minus 4 percentage points.
Source: Glengariff Group Inc.