Governor Rick Snyder declared victory over the state’s economic hardships last night, in his eighth and final State of the State address. The governor says choices made over the last seven years leave room now for more investment in schools and infrastructure.
But it’s not clear that he can win support for his plans in the Legislature.
Snyder spent most of the hour long speech reviewing his years as governor, and compared Michigan today to the days of the Great Recession, when the unemployment rate was double what it is now.
“Folks, we’re back. And we’re only going to keep going up, ” he said to applause.
Snyder reminded people of the budget troubles that plagued his predecessor, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, and he asked his audience to recall the two partial government shutdowns that occurred when Granholm couldn’t reach a budget deal with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.
But Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard says Snyder shouldn’t be so quick to claim credit for the fruits of an improving economy.
“If Snyder had been governor when Jennifer Granholm was governor, the economy would have been bad, because the economy was bad for reasons far outside the control of anybody in the state of Michigan. He was fortunate, but I don’t think his policies necessarily damaged things, so he came to office at a good time, and that’s fine,” Ballard said.
Ballard also says the state still faces plenty of problems, at least in part because it hasn’t invested enough more in government services, education, and infrastructure.
Snyder also used his final State of the State to for investment. He said he would roll out a new infrastructure or environmental proposal every day next week. The plans will include expanding broadband access, combating invasive species, more spending on roads and bridges, and more recycling.
The governor also said he will propose a “Marshall Plan for talent” and called for a major increase in funding for schools by increasing the per-student allowance.
“Let’s invest more in education and the operations of our schools,” he said.
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature reacted cautiously, even in areas where they said they agree with Snyder’s priorities.
“Actions speak a lot louder than words,” said State Senate Democratic leader Jim Ananich. He says ambitious proposals in the past were sidelined or diluted as Snyder gave more deference to the Legislature’s Republican majorities than seeking bipartisan deals.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof says he’s waiting to see details of the governor’s plans.
“I’m very proud to have served with him, and the investments we’ve made in the future, the debts we’ve paid down, the budgets that we’ve balanced have put Michigan in a place where my kids, my grandkids can have a great future here,” Meekhof said.
But Charles Ballard, the MSU economist, warns that another downturn is on the way and that could affect the legacy of Rick Snyder, not to mention the job he’ll be handing off to his successor in 2019.
“And if the national economy slows down, I guarantee you, Michigan’s economy will slow down, and that doesn’t matter whether John Engler, or Jennifer Granholm, or Rick Snyder, or whoever is governor,” Ballard said.
Ballard says Snyder’s toughest foe in his final year may not be opposition in the Legislature – but new economic realities following the recovery that greeted him as he walked in the door.