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Snyder encourages support for immigrants, pledges investment in early education

From Crain’s Detroit Business

By Chris Gautz

January 16, 2014

In his fourth State of the State address Thursday night, Gov. Rick Snyder pledged to make Michigan more welcome to immigrants, provide some tax relief for workers and continue to invest in early childhood education.

Snyder announced he will create the Michigan Office for New Americans through an executive order that is part of his strategy to attract well-educated immigrants to Michigan to help create jobs.

“We need to encourage immigration in our state,” Snyder said. “We need to focus on legal immigration and make sure people know Michigan is the most welcoming place.”

The office, he said, will be a coordinating resource and encourage entrepreneurship among foreign students studying in Michigan universities and food workers in the agricultural sector.

Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said he appreciated the governor’s comments on immigration.

“If you want to look at repopulating Detroit… immigrants always play a vital role,” Williams said. “We look forward to a day when we can welcome immigrants with open arms in the city and make Detroit the most immigrant friendly city in the country.”

With the state’s nearly $1 billion surplus, Snyder said the state must first pay its bills and put some money away to pay off long-term liabilities. But he said there should be some type of tax relief for “hardworking folk,” though he did not give any specifics.

And Snyder said he plans to again call for spending $65 million in the next fiscal year budget on early childhood education to completely eliminate the waiting list of poor students seeking a spot in a preschool in the state.

Last year, he asked for – and the Legislature approved – $65 million to take 18,000 students off the waiting list and move them into the classroom.

“We’re going to make it a no-wait state,” he said.

The comeback continues

The overall theme of Thursday night’s address from Snyder was “the comeback continues,” as he laid out ways Michigan’s economy has improved under his leadership.

“We’re getting that job done. We are reinventing Michigan,” Snyder said.

Snyder said since December 2010, the state has added 221,000 private sector jobs, the labor force is growing and Michigan’s per-capita personal income growth rate is the highest among the Great Lakes states.

“For the last three years, the governor’s agenda has been in lock step with the agenda of the business community, and everything I heard tonight indicates that the next year is going to be exactly the same,” Williams said.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said the governor was picking and choosing economic statistics to make his administration look good, but that Snyder’s own dashboard shows that when he took office the state had the third-highest unemployment rate in the country — and it still does.

“If job one was jobs, this governor should be fired,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing.

Snyder also touted the state Pure Michigan Business Connect program, which encourages businesses in the state to do business with one another, rather than hire firms from out of state or in other countries. Since the program’s inception two and a half years ago, more than $1.6 billion in contracts have been signed, resulting in about 8,000 jobs, he said.

Transportation, no-fault insurance

In terms of unfinished business Snyder said hopes to tackle this year, he mentioned the one obvious task – transportation funding in this way of roads and bridge repairs.

Not mentioned was his support for reforms to the state’s auto no-fault insurance system, but his top aides said prior to the speech that the topic’s absence did not indicate he no longer supports the reform, just that he did not have room to include everything.

Regarding transportation, Snyder said there will be about $250 million more available to help repair the state’s roads and bridges, but did not spend much time on the topic the way he did in his 2013 State of the State address when he called on lawmakers to spend $1.2 billion annually.

“We do need to invest more in our roads,” Snyder said.

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said $250 million is “a nice start.”

“It’s a one-time shot in the arm,” Steudle said.

Williams said the chamber will continue to push for increased transportation spending as its members need those improvements to guarantee they can get their products to market.

No mention of minimum wage

Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of the Business Leaders for Michigan, said his organization was pleased that Snyder plans to focus on many of its policy priorities, including fiscal management, transportation, making college more affordable and accelerating job growth.

“We applaud the governor’s effort to make Michigan even more welcoming to immigrants. Attracting immigrants with advanced academic degrees or entrepreneurial aspirations will help the state attract investment and create jobs,” Rothwell wrote. “Another critical step forward is reducing Michigan’s unemployment rate by giving more children the opportunity to get a community college or university degree.

“To do that, we need to increase access and make college more affordable. We’re hopeful the governor will recommend enough in his budget to stem the tide of rising tuition and look forward to working with the administration and the Legislature to make Michigan a ‘top ten’ state for jobs, personal income and a healthy economy.”

Also in the speech, Snyder said he supported a pilot project that would allow some low-performing schools to enact year-round school. It would not add days to the school calendar, just stretch out the school year.

One thing Snyder did not address in his speech was the idea of raising the state’s minimum wage, but the presumed Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, who was at the Capitol meeting with reporters earlier in the day, said he thought Snyder should.

Schauer said it would benefit a million workers in the state and is the right thing to do.

“The economics work,” Schauer said. “It’s wildly popular with the public. If Rick Snyder continues to sit on the sidelines on that issue, it will be one more reason why he loses his reelection.”

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said the state’s minimum wage of $7.40 already exceeds that of the federal government, which has a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“Mark continually talks about putting more burdens on businesses than what they have already,” Richardville said.

Chris Gautz: 1-517-403-4403, Twitter: @chrisgautz