Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled plans to increase spending on education and infrastructure in his eighth and final State of State speech.
Snyder, a Republican, recapped his time as governor and highlighted lower unemployment rates, balanced budgets and increased spending on education, and promised more for 2018. Michigan law limits governors to two terms.
He said he has an ambitious agenda for his last year, with a focus on the workforce, infrastructure and the environment. “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 Tuesday night.
Snyder said he plans to expand the $1.2 billion road funding deal that was narrowly approved by the Legislature in 2015. "I'm going to ask for additional budget dollars to go even faster. We can do even better than what we have already committed," Snyder said.
He said he’ll propose the largest per-pupil, K-12 education funding increase in the last 15 years. Snyder said in fiscal 2018 appropriations for K-12 are $1.6 billion more than in 2011. “We’ve helped address pension reforms, pension liabilities and now we have more money to invest in school operations,” he said. “Let’s invest more in education and the operations of our schools.”
Snyder said that next week he plans to unveil five major policy initiatives, for rural broadband access, recycling, protecting the Great Lakes from the invasive Asian carp fish, water infrastructure and the replacement of bond money that was spent for environmental cleanup.
A 1998 ballot measure authorized the state to issue $675 million in bonds for environmental protection along with waterfront and state park improvements. Snyder is proposing to shift nearly $15 million from another fund — one used to address 8,000 leaking underground fuel tanks — as a one-time "buffer" to continue the remediation of abandoned paper mills, foundries and other properties next year.
“We’ve spent all that money and we still owe ten years plus on the bonds. We come up with a better initiative and keep going and not leave our kids in debt,” he said.
Snyder came under fire from Democrats who said his policies have been largely built at the expense of Michigan cities that have seen funding cut by $8 billion since 2002.
“People I talk to aren’t getting ahead," Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a statement. "There is some optimism, but optimism doesn’t pay the bills."
Snyder was also criticized for not devoting more time in his speech to the Flint drinking water crisis that developed on his administration’s watch. Snyder only made a brief mention on the situation.
"The water has improved dramatically. But we're continuing to work hard, in terms of educational efforts and health efforts," Snyder said.
Snyder did not specifically discuss income tax relief legislation working its way through the House and Senate that would raise the personal exemption Michiganders can claim on their income taxes beyond what Snyder has proposed. Earlier this month, Snyder proposed raising the personal exemption to $4,500 by 2021, up from a planned $4,300.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, while acknowledging differences between his caucus and Snyder over tax cuts, said in a statement that 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.”
Under Snyder the state’s rainy day fund went to $889 million from $2 million. When Snyder took office, the state's unemployment rate was 10.7% — more than double the 4.7% rate today.
S&P Global Ratings revised the outlook on Michigan's AA-minus rating to positive from stable in September. The rating agency also affirmed the A-plus rating on the state’s appropriation-backed debt.
Moody’s Investors Service rates the GO bonds Aa1 and Fitch Rating affirmed its AA ratings on the bonds. Both assign stable outlooks.