Column: Michigan’s comeback took work

Greg McNeilly

Next week, Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver his eighth and final State of the State address. By every measure, the state of the state is stronger than it was during the governor’s first address in 2011. Michigan’s turnaround has been seven years in the making, and it didn’t come easy.

The speech comes at a critical time – at the beginning of an election year. This November, voters will go to the polls to select Snyder’s successor, a new state House of Representatives and a new state Senate. As Michiganians listen to the governor and reflect on how far we’ve come, they’d be wise to consider for more than a moment just what’s at stake this fall.

Snyder and a conservative House and Senate have racked up big victories, one after another, for Michigan workers and employers. They eliminated the Michigan Business Tax. The Personal Property Tax on manufacturing equipment? Gone. They gave small businesses a kick start by eliminating the state’s antiquated and expensive item pricing regulations.

They’ve focused on paying down debt and tackling the state’s liabilities. They tackled the biggest municipal reinvention in American history, walking Detroit through bankruptcy and out again the other side. What was the most distressed big city in America just 10 years ago is now perhaps its most exciting.

They rescued 40,000 Michigan home health care workers from a cash skimming scheme enacted by the former governor and the powerful Service Employees International Union.

And they enacted landmark right to work reforms that gave every Michigan worker the right to choose whether or not to join a union, and whether or not to part with a big chunk of their own paychecks.

The Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reinvention was created to cut red tape and regulations that were holding back employers and entrepreneurs. The ORR has overseen the administrative rules making process for each department in the state since April 2011. In that time, thanks to the work of the legislature, the governor, and the ORR, there are 2,182 fewer rules and regulations on the books.

More than 525,000 private-sector jobs have been created in Michigan since 2010. Today, the state’s unemployment rate has plummeted to only 4.6 percent. It was 10.9 percent at this time 7 years ago. The labor force has grown by nearly 200,000 workers.

These gains are meaningful and they’re significant. Michigan’s recent political history also tells us they can be fragile. The state’s economy imploded like the Pontiac Silverdome (the second time) under high tax, anti-worker government just a few short years ago.

From 2002 to 2007, that kind of “leadership” made Michigan the only state in the nation to experience absolutely zero economic growth.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Democrats in the Legislature, who then controlled the state House, responded to a national economic downturn by declaring war on Michigan workers. In 2007 they raised the income tax from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent, slashing moms’ and dads’ take home pay. They slapped a new 4.95 percent income tax on businesses, hit them with a .8 percent gross receipts tax, and slathered on a 21.99 percent fee on business tax liability, slashing funds job makers relied on to pay their employees.

No wonder Michigan unemployment hit 14.9 percent by 2009, as families fled the state just to make a living. But the economic carnage really was unnecessary.

Michigan’s turnaround has been one for the books. Let’s keep it going.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.