Commentary
11:58 am
Thu January 19, 2012

What next for Michigan?

Governor Snyder’s state of the state speech last night didn’t provoke the kind of excitement it did a year ago.

And that’s not necessarily bad. In fact, it demonstrated two things; a grasp of political reality, and responsible common sense. Last year was one of revolutionary change in the way state government does business. The governor proposed a series of breathtaking programs and far-reaching changes.

To the astonishment of the experts, he got pretty much everything he wanted through the legislature, with one exception -- the New International Trade Crossing bridge.

This year, some may have expected Snyder to propose another dramatic set of reforms. But he was too smart for that. Instead, he delivered a fairly low-key speech that encouraged lawmakers to finish consolidating what they had done.

The main thing he asked for was sensible and shouldn’t be politically difficult. Last year, he set up a new Education Achievement Authority to take over some of the worst schools in the state. He wants the legislature to pass bills giving it more legal status that just something created by the executive office.

Beyond that, this year is supposed to be about finishing and fine-tuning. The governor wants the lawmakers to authorize $1.4 billion dollars for needed road repairs. Last year, he spelled out where he thought the money should come from.

That went over like a lead balloon.

This year, everyone seems to be quietly working behind the scenes, and my guess is that they will get it done. It is also pretty clear that the governor intends to get the new bridge built in a way that won’t involve the legislature, which is probably best for all parties concerned. Not only have too many of the lawmakers been corrupted by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun’s money, for those in the house, it is an election year. Many aren’t going to be willing to tackle politically difficult decisions, and Snyder shouldn’t want them to. Democrats lost twenty seats in the house in the last election. They only need to regain nine or ten to retake control. If they do, that could effectively end the governor’s agenda.

Rest assured that Rick Snyder realizes this. So he spent much of his speech giving us a Michigan report card, and stressing those areas where his now-famous dashboard says we’re doing better. Well, in some cases we are.  But our economy is still weak.

How weak? Consider this. Unemployment has fallen quite a bit, and is the lowest it’s been in more than three years.

But while jobs were created last month, here’s some shocking news. There are three thousand fewer jobs in Michigan now than there were a year ago. Most of the decline in unemployment is due to people giving up and dropping out of the workforce.

University of Michigan economist George Fulton now says the state won’t get back to the number of jobs we used to have until the year 2030 at the earliest. And In the past, some of his forecasts have been too optimistic.

We have a long way to go. The governor’s philosophy has been anchored on the belief that if he slashed business taxes dramatically, new jobs would come to this state.

This year, we may begin to find out if this is so.