LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday touted Michigan’s economic and fiscal gains under his watch, saying his tenure has had “huge ups and downs” but that the state is in better shape than before he took office.
In his eighth and final State of the State address, the Republican recapped his time as governor but said he has an ambitious agenda for his last year, with a focus on the workforce, infrastructure and the environment. He also pushed back against ongoing calls for a tax cut.
“During this period, we’ve had huge ups and downs. It hasn’t been a straight line. But overall, there is no question that Michigan is a far better state today than 2010,” Snyder told a joint session of the Legislature toward the end of the 53-minute speech.
Next week, he will unveil five major policy initiatives related to rural broadband access, recycling, Asian carp in the Great Lakes, water infrastructure and the replacement of bond money that has dried up for environmental cleanup. And in February, he will propose a budget with more spending on roads and bridges than is called for under a 2015 transportation funding deal, along with the largest increase in base per-pupil funding in the last 15 years.
He will detail a “Marshall Plan” for developing a talented workforce next month as well.
“This is going to lay the groundwork for a new way of producing talent in Michigan,” said Snyder, who briefly touched on Flint — where lead-contaminated drinking water was blamed primarily on his administration’s failures in 2014 and 2015. Two members of Snyder’s Cabinet are among those facing criminal charges over the man-made disaster, which experts suspect was also tied to a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
Snyder said tests show the city’s water is now comparable to other Michigan cities, old lead service pipes are being replaced and Flint is seeing economic development.
His speech came less than a week after the GOP-led Legislature overwhelmingly overrode one of his vetoes for the first time, enacting a speedier tax cut for people who trade in a car for a new one. He made no mention of the override in his remarks. But he indirectly sought to dampen lawmakers’ push for a separate cut to individual taxes while he talked about “fiscally responsible government.”
The Senate voted earlier Tuesday to create an income tax credit for dependent care, after last week passing a bill that would gradually raise the personal tax exemption to $5,000, with future inflationary adjustments.
Snyder has proposed keeping intact and boosting Michigan’s personal exemption to $4,500 to offset unintended consequences of the federal tax cuts. But he has budgetary concerns with going beyond that.
“We have broken culture in our political world where it’s OK to say, ‘We can spend money or we can cut our taxes, and do that now for short-term benefit, and leave the bill for the kids and their family.’ I don’t think that’s right,” Snyder said. “If we’re going to do something, let’s make sure we’re paying for it.”
Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, an advocacy group for the poor, said Snyder has “done a lot of good things” but his fiscal legacy will be at risk if legislators “disinvest” and cut taxes.
“We’ve got to make sure that the next 11 months don’t unravel the good that’s been done,” she said, saying the state cannot develop talented students without spending on infrastructure, schools and higher education.
Democrats criticized Snyder’s depiction of the economy in a state that has added 540,000 private-sector jobs in his tenure and seen a 28 percent growth in per-capita income— both sixth-most in the country.
“The governor paints a pretty picture of Michigan, but too many families aren’t seeing it,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint. “Instead, they’re seeing crumbling roads, aging schools and dangerous water contamination issues creeping up all over the state. We hear a lot of talk, but action doesn’t follow.”
Snyder cited successes such as more preschool spending, the Pure Michigan tourism initiative, a boost in funding for arts, a vocational program for prisoners and his anticipation of a groundbreaking for the future Gordie Howe International Bridge in Detroit this summer. He also renewed his call for an A-to-F letter grade system for public schools.
Democrats running for governor such as Gretchen Whitmer criticized his record, however, and Republican candidates such as Attorney General Bill Schuette said the 4.25 percent income tax should be cut to 3.9 percent to spur growth — despite Snyder noting that households making under $60,000 will qualify for an expanded and more generous property tax credit under the 2015 road funding deal.