LANSING, MICH. - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder sought to take a victory lap in his eighth and final State of the State address Tuesday, telling a joint session of the Legislature the state has enjoyed a tremendous recovery and "now we're accelerating this comeback into the future."
But not everyone was cheering.
As Snyder spoke, his record as governor was under fire from both Democrats and some Republicans who want to succeed him as governor, and the Republican-controlled Legislature he addressed had handed him a rare veto override just six days earlier as a majority of lawmakers favor making deeper tax cuts than he supports.
"Last year, for the first time since the turn of the century, more people came into Michigan than left Michigan," said Snyder, touting a greatly reduced unemployment rate, a strong automobile industry and gains in personal income.
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Snyder, who spoke for 53 minutes, praised huge progress in state government finances and prospects for the City of Detroit after it emerged from the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy, which he initiated.
"Remember what Detroit was like 10 years ago?" he asked. "The progress has been incredible."
Both in Detroit and statewide, "we have more work to be done, but we're headed back in a positive fashion," Snyder said.
House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said after the speech he was disappointed Snyder didn't talk more about the need for investment in education and other Michigan systems and said recent polls suggest "there is almost two Michigans we're talking about," with many of the state's residents not feeling the progress that Snyder was touting.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, while acknowledging differences between his caucus and Snyder over tax cuts, said he appreciates the governor "taking stock of the work we have done on behalf of the taxpayers of Michigan and I look forward to finishing this term on a high note.”
The governor proposed little in the way of new initiatives, but said he will announce plans in his upcoming 2019 budget to expand the $1.2-billion road funding deal that was narrowly approved by the Legislature in 2015, but so far has not resulted in dramatic improvements in the quality of state roads.
"I'm going to ask for additional budget dollars to go even faster ... to get rid of those potholes," Snyder said.
Candice Miller, Macomb County’s public works director and a former Republican congresswoman, said she was encouraged that Snyder talked extensively about the need for improvements to the state’s infrastructures and roads, but “I would have liked to seen a little more beat on the bones."
“They need to think about creative financing, because there’s no municipality or county or state government that has enough coin in their blue jeans to pay for the kind of work we need done," Miller said after the speech.
"The biggest issue in Macomb County right now is the roads. I keep hearing these guys talking about the regional transit authority, but nobody talks about that in Macomb County. We want the potholes fixed.”
Snyder called for an A to F grading system for K-12 schools, where he said he would soon propose the largest per-capita student grant in 15 years.
Singh said he welcomes that commitment but said Michigan's education system would be in better shape today if the Snyder administration hadn't diverted hundreds of millions from the School Aid Fund to cover community college expenses formerly paid for from the state's general fund.
Snyder, who made his usual call for more civil discourse in Michigan, also spoke extensively about his efforts to improve training and support for skilled trades and high-tech programs.
He said his Marshall Plan for Talent, which will be fully rolled out in February, will break down walls between educational institutions and businesses and help students find better and higher-paying jobs when they graduate.
He said Michigan had learned from its recent unsuccessful pursuit for a second headquarters for online retail giant Amazon, in the Detroit region.
Programs he highlighted included the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance, which seeks to help students make better career choices while still in school, and First Robotics, which teaches students about automation.
The First Robotics world championship, which Snyder described as "a rock concert for nerds," will soon be held in Michigan, he said.
Snyder said that in his final year before leaving office because of constitutional term limits, he expects to break ground on the Gordie Howe International Bridge to Canada — a project he announced in his first State of the State address — and attend the official opening of the American Center for Mobility near Ypsilanti, a key development in Snyder's efforts to make Michigan a world leader in the field of self-driving cars.
Snyder, a millionaire businessman who took office as a political newcomer in 2011, delivered his speech amid a raging controversy over Michigan State University's handling of complaints about sexual abuse of girls and young women by MSU doctor Larry Nassar. A sentencing hearing for Nassar continues in Ingham County Circuirt Court and Snyder was called on Monday to remove MSU President Lou Anna Simon.
Snyder has said he doesn't have the authority to do that, though some legal experts disagree.
Snyder, after touting the work of First Lady Sue Snyder in addressing campus sexual assaults and $1.6 million in grants the state has awarded to fight the problem since 2015, called on Michigan residents to "reach out and support the courageous survivors" of Nassar and "assure that cases like this never happen again."
When Snyder took office, the state's unemployment rate was 10.7% — more than double the 4.7% rate today. After 10 consecutive years of job declines, Michigan gained 88,500 jobs the year Snyder took office, and it has gained another 438,000 jobs since.
On Flint, Snyder said the city has made huge strides in both water quality and economic development since a lead poisoning public health crisis that began in April 2014, but he acknowledged there is more work to be done.
"We're continuing the replacement of lead water lines," he said.
Snyder also highlighted growth in the state's Rainy Day Fund from about $2 million when he took office to close to $900 million today and measures to reduce the state's long-term unfunded liabilities.
Those gains came amid a strong nationwide recovery under Democratic President Barack Obama, but Snyder stressed that Michigan has outpaced other Great Lakes States on certain economic metrics, such as growth in per capita income.
In a departure from past years, when emotions have run high around the governor's annual speech over issues such as passage of a right-to-work law and state failures surrounding the Flint drinking water crisis, Snyder saw no demonstrators in front of the Capitol when he made his entrance shortly before 5 p.m.
But in front of Snyder's Cadillac Place office in Detroit Tuesday, janitors and health care workers from the Service Employees International Union demonstrated alongside fast food workers calling for a $15-per-hour minimum wage.
They staged what they called a "Workers' State of the State," and said Snyder has attacked working people and their unions since he took office.
Michigan Democrats issued a statement in advance of the speech that said Snyder, along with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette, for seven years had formed an "Axis of Failure" that had held Michigan back economically, clouded the state's future and left "the most vulnerable among us exposed to poison and abuse."
Both Democratic and Republican candidates for governor also took digs at Snyder's record in news releases and staged events Tuesday. Schuette, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor against Calley and other GOP candidates, said the state tax on pensions, pushed for and signed into law by Snyder in 2011, is costing Michigan taxpayers an extra $900 million a year.
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