Snyders bridge to states future requires consensus

January 24, 2011
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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder had less than 40 minutes to give his first State of the State speech last week, providing his constituents with the summation of his goals to achieve “real results for real people.”

While many in Michigan looked for the “how tos” and criticized a lack of details for the multiple issues affecting jobs, employment and budget shortfalls, it is important to remember we are a nation with attention deficits. But foremost, the intricacies of such detail are shared by two legislative houses of varying member ideology, and Snyder wants consensus, because consensus brings ownership of problem solving. Leaders build consensus; despots make demands. The latter only promises more of the same for Michigan: paralysis.

That said, Snyder seemed resolute on at least three issues. Michigan businesses were assured that the reviled Michigan Business Tax would be repealed — and replaced, he said, with a 6 percent corporate income tax.

The Governor also appeared resolute in his admonishment that consolidation of services — for all levels of government and for school districts — is necessary. He went so far as to hold out the carrot to guide those consolidations saying, “We must provide better services for less money,” and that revenue sharing would be “significantly increased for those employing ‘best practices.’” Given the already-realized shared services among Grand Rapids and suburban neighbors and long-discussion of consolidations within Kent County, this region may end up providing the model for Michigan.

Certainly one of the more controversial plans, seemingly a done deal, is that of a new bridge linking Detroit and Canada. The unexpected news brought long-supportive Democrats to their feet in applause. Snyder revealed that just days before his State of the State speech, he visited Washington to meet with the Federal Transportation Administration to bend the rules a bit: The agreement with the federal government allows the $550 million funding proffered by the Canadian government to serve as Michigan’s share of matching funds for federal transportation dollars (and Michigan has long been a “deficit” state in the return of those dollars), and further allows use of the money for bridges, not just roads.

While that aspect of Snyder’s plan has been largely dismissed in West Michigan, it is important to point out that one in seven Grand Rapids jobs are tied to international trade in Canada, and one in eight have such ties in Detroit. There is no dividing line.

The most important aspect of “the bridge thing” is not the crossing, but the thinking. Gov. Snyder modeled what “out of the box” thinking looks like. He determined what the objections would be and set out to resolve them in a stunning deal with the federal government.

“Michigan taxpayers will not take in any debt related to this project,” he said, and noted Canada is happy with the return on its investment through toll revenues.

“Every farmer and every manufacturer in this state can tell you why we should position this state for global business,” Snyder said.

Indeed, the only disheartening aspect of last Wednesday was the “official” response from Democrats. The statement almost perfectly replicated Snyder’s points and comments and ended with: “But if Republicans start playing the same old political games and try to balance the budget on the backs of Michigan’s teachers, police officers and middle-class families without asking state elected officials, appointees, and contractors as well as special interests such as CEOs, big banks, and oil companies to share in the sacrifice, we will oppose them.”

The suffering of those “special interest groups” is already apparent: It shows in the rates of unemployment, foreclosures and educational attainment. Michigan Democrats deserve better than the leaderless laggards stuck in the time warp, senselessly refusing to budge. That is paralysis.

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