Ten million people. Governor Rick Snyder has set a goal of getting Michigan’s population above that number before the next US Census. It was part of the governor’s seventh State of the State address delivered Tuesday night at the state Capitol.
It’s been 10 years since more than 10 million people called Michigan home. Thousands fled the state through two recessions and the near-collapse of the auto industry. Michigan was the only state in the nation to suffer a net loss of residents in the last Census. That cost the state funding for federal programs, the loss of a seat in Congress, and statistical humiliation. The newest numbers say Michigan is now gaining people, but not at the same pace as other states.
In his State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder said it’s time to accelerate that growth.
“Our goal should be to reach 10 million people again. We were there once. We’re at 9,928,000. We need 71,000 people. Let’s get ‘em over the next three years. Let’s put ‘em to work in Michigan.”
But the governor offered no specific plans on how to attract those potential future residents. The governor offered a rosy view of the state’s economic climate – unemployment below 5%, incomes on the rise, along with home values. He said that should inspire confidence that Michigan is a good place to live. He said Detroit, for example, has emerged from bankruptcy to become a magnet for young people looking to start careers.
“We’ve made Michigan a place where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can truly get ahead. Not just survive, but thrive.”
But there are very different views on what it would take to make Michigan a place that will attract more people. Republican state House Speaker Tom Leonard says the state’s off to a good start now that the Great Recession is over.
“People are now coming back home. Population is finally growing. We are on the rise. And I think we can hit that number in the next three years.”
For Leonard and the Legislature’s GOP leaders, the answer is tax cuts. He’s pushing for rolling back the state income tax. That’s at the same time that Governor Snyder – who was silent on taxes -- has called for a multi-million dollar infusion of money into infrastructure. He offered no plans on where the money would come from. State Senator Bert Johnson of Detroit said a serious infrastructure plan would mean changes in how the state’s handled funding for local governments.
“If we were once considered the Paris of the north with the best mass transit system in the world, we are now considered a 'Rust Belt' city trying to make a comeback, and people are associating the word ‘comeback’ with us, but when you understand just how many people we’ve lost and for what reasons, well, we’ve just got to do a lot better.”
How the governor intends to pay for infrastructure improvements is the biggest question hanging following the speech. The governor has a budget rollout coming soon that could answer that question.
There’s also the issue of Flint, where state blunders helped create the city’s drinking water crisis. Last year, Governor Snyder devoted nearly half his speech to the Flint water crisis. This year, the controversy rated a couple of minutes and no new plans specifically to help the city.