Gov. Rick Snyder’s final State of the State address was equal parts farewell speech, victory lap and bow to reality. The governor obviously understands the limitations of finishing out his term in an election year in which every legislative seat is up for grabs.
His proposals for new initiatives that require cooperation from the Legislature were few and modest.
The bulk of his time Tuesday night before the two legislative chambers was spent recapping what he sees as the major successes of his seven years in office. Snyder started by holding up two articles about Michigan from the Wall Street Journal, one from 2009 bearing the headline “The State of Joblessness,” and the second from 2017 under the banner “The Michigan Comeback Story.”
As the governor reminded in numerous ways Tuesday, the contrast in those two Michigan stories can be credited to the fiscal responsibility and pro-growth policies he put in place
As the governor noted, both people and jobs are coming back to Michigan. More college graduates are arriving in the state than are leaving. The mobility revolution is sparking a research and development boom around the automobile industry. Home values are up, as is confidence in the Michigan business climate.
But the job of bringing Michigan back is far from finished.
Schools have not improved under Snyder’s watch; education performance of state students now stands in the bottom 10 of all states.
Roads and bridges continue to deteriorate; the governor has not been able to convince either voters or lawmakers to make game-changing investments in Michigan’s highways and water systems.
Whether he could make much progress in those areas in his last 11 months is doubtful. But many in Michigan will be disappointed that Snyder is not giving it one, last try.
On the other hand, the things he did commit to getting done this year are worthwhile and should push the state ahead, both in terms of economic competitiveness and quality of life.
Snyder teased again his Marshall Plan for skilled trades and career training, which he promised to unveil in his final budget proposal next month. Preparing Michigan workers for the good jobs that are being created in the state today is essential to raising household incomes and bringing more investment to the state. A big reason Detroit did not make the final cut of cities competing for a second Amazon headquarters is its still underdeveloped workforce.
And he also pledged to raise the education foundation grant for public schools by the largest amount in 15 years. Adding substantially to the $7,600 per pupil base funding for schools could cure some ills.
But without performance accountability measures, which are still sorely lacking in Michigan, the full benefit of the extra cash will not be realized. To that end, Snyder said he would push for an A-to-F grading system for schools and programs to better link classroom learning to future careers.
He also mentioned several infrastructure initiatives around cleaning up the waterways and encouraging more recycling. And he said he would ask the Legislature for more money to fill potholes. Good luck with that.
The sense is that Snyder will spend this last year tying up loose ends and making sure existing programs work they way they should. Given the political realities of 2018, that’s probably not a bad use of his time.