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Wednesday, July 9,2014

Pure decline

Michigan heads in the wrong direction

by Mickey Hirten
Itīs easy here in Lansing to look at Detroitīs decline in isolation: big city problems, terrible schools, crumbling infrastructure, ragged parks, degraded public services.

But just as Detroit is a failing city, Michigan is a failing state with little political will to address a decade of disinvestment education, roads, communities and environment. A report released last week by Prima Civitas, the East Lansing-based nonprofit that promotes competitiveness, innovation and a global Michigan, offers a depressing analysis of just how bad things are in this once proud and powerful state. We drive on the crumbling roads and know that they are bad and getting worse. But itīs the less obvious assets that weīve shortchanged, and the consequences are real.

The report, titled “Michigan Dream at Risk,” identifies and categorizes these indicators of Michiganīs economy from 2004 to 2014. Itīs depressing.

• Roads: “Worst roads in the nation”; 15 percent drop in state investment in transportation systems.

• City services: “4,000 fewer firefighters and police in Michigan communities.”

Local revenue sharing has declined 31 percent.

• Children: 16 percent decline in K-12 investment, leading to the elimination of arts, music, larger classes and diminished quality.

• Higher education: “College tuitions have doubled”; 29 percent real investment drop in higher education funding.

• Outdoors: “Miles of polluted rivers has doubled; beach closures are up 22 percent over the past 5 years. Conservation funding down 6%.”

• Incomes: “Biggest fall in family incomes in the nation.” Michigan has fallen from 19th to 37th in the nation in personal incomes.

None of this is a surprise to the stateīs political leadership. Rather, it is the direct result of policies and politics, and since 2010, the consequence of single party control. The Prima Civitas report refutes the happy-talk posturing of Gov. Rick Snyder and the “Potemkin Village” artifice of the stateīs Pure Michigan campaign.

From the report: “Those Michiganbranding ads tug at our hearts because they speak to the very things that are extraordinary, and authentic, about our state. The very things that we care a lot about, that help define who we are as citizens. They are the very things that also happen to be the foundation upon which the Michigan economy was built.”

What are they? The report cites hard work and innovation, education, great transportation and infrastructure and the outdoors.

“But what those īPure Michiganī ads are saying, and what we know right now about the reality of our state, are not the same things,” Prima Civitas said. “In fact, today, all these things that we believe in and care about, things that continue to drive our economy, the very things that make Michigan a singular state as both a destination and a place to call home, are all at risk. And the problems can’t be glossed over.”

But they are. The Snyder administration’s measures of Michiganīs performance — the governorīs vaunted dashboard — presents page after page of thumbs up, that is, performance improving. Economic strength, health and education value for money government — improvement, improvement, improvement. There are a few performance decline grades for quality of life and public safety. But Snyder is still proclaiming his “Comeback Kid” message and the reordering of state fiscal affairs that resulted in business tax cuts, taxes on senior citizen pensions, reduced tax breaks for low and middle income families and cuts to public education.

The Prima Civitas report complements a recent analysis by Michigan Future Inc., whose mission has helping Michigan succeed in a knowledge-driven economy. It prepared a stark comparison of Michiganīs tax-cutting/disinvestment policies with those in Minnesota, which it ranked among the 15th wealthiest state in the country since 1990.

“Minnesotaīs sustained, strong economy defies the conventional wisdom that low taxes are the singular path to prosperity. The stateīs taxing and spending priorities reflect Minnesota’s long held belief that support for education from preschool to the university level, and high-quality government service are key ingredients in producing prosperity of its citizens.”

In short, the citizens of Minnesota invest more in their state and yield significant returns. Unemployment and poverty rates are significantly lower than in Michigan; income, sales, gasoline and corporate taxes are higher. Michigan does spend more on corrections than Minnesota: $202 per capita versus $91. Such are our stateīs priorities.

Minnesota is not the only state investing in its future. The Prima Civitas report cites New Jersey, which raised more than $750 million to rebuild post secondary education institutions; Ohio, where voters voted in 2005 and 2010 to invest $2.3 billion to create new jobs and companies from university research and innovation; and California, which voted to raise more than $6 billion for schools, cities and universities.

It is something to consider as we bump along our Third World roads. Why are our leaders so shortsighted? And itīs worth considering as we head into election season for a Legislature that would rather turn the state toward Mississippi than Minnesota.

Email Mickey Hirten at mickey@ lansingcitypulse.com.

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