As Gov. Rick Snyder enters his final year in office, he remains optimistic about the state’s overall economic trajectory. The champion of “relentless positive action” continues to place heavy emphasis on better connecting the state’s resources for workforce development with employers in need of skilled talent. He’s also focusing on efforts needed to support the burgeoning autonomous vehicle sector. In a year-end interview with MiBiz, Snyder spoke about what he hopes to see in the state’s next governor.
At this time next year, the state will have a new governor-elect. What do you hope to accomplish in your last year?
Michigan’s economy is doing very well. We’re the comeback state in the nation, but we can continue to build on that. We still have a lot of opportunities where we have well paying, open careers waiting for people to fill them, particularly in the professional trades — welder, plumber, electrician, industrial automation, robotics. So one of the key priorities I’ve had over the last several years is to encourage more people to go into these trades. And I think we can really do more of that next year and build a long-term path to success. Literally there are a hundred thousand openings out there.
Where can the state make a tangible impact on filling jobs?
I think we’re going to continue to see how we can do more communication and marketing about where these opportunities are, more training, more connection with institutions and young people and parents and people looking for that next career. The whole field of mobility is a big one that we’re continuing to emphasize internationally. We’re the world’s leader in autonomous and connected vehicles and that’s another job creator that we have out there that we’re going to be emphasizing.
On the other side of that, many analysts project that the automotive industry will plateau in the coming years. How will the state be positioned if its main industry goes into decline?
I think if you look at the economic forecast both for the auto industry and for the state, they look pretty solid over the next few years. Again, the rate of growth may slow down some, but with respect to auto sales, they look fairly stable. The mix has actually been good for the auto industry. SUVs continue to be more and more popular (as well as) trucks, which is providing good profitability for the auto industry and they’re making big investments in this whole area of mobility for these autonomous and connected vehicles. Hopefully, they’ll be opening up new opportunities to see growth happen.
On a different note, what traits does Michigan need in its next governor?
One of the big things is how to continue the success we’ve had. We’re a great role model for good government, if you look at it in terms of job creation. I think jobs is still the number one issue in terms of helping people get connected to these well-paying careers. (It’s) understanding that is a key requirement. How we need to do more on infrastructure is another issue. How we need to continue to be fiscally responsible. It’s not just about cutting taxes or spending money, it’s about doing it in a responsible long-term way, and that’s what we’ve shown.
You know, doing all these balanced budgets year after year, doing them early, paying off our long-term debt are important things. And then the last thing I would hope is civility. We don’t need fighters, we need people that show how people can work together. We have too much devisiveness in our nation today, and we need people who are coming to the table to say, how do you solve problems, not how do you get in fights.
The issue of term limits for state government has percolated a few times during your tenure as Governor. Have term limits been a detriment to the state’s business and political health?
Going forward, I think there could be improvements made to term limits. I think six years in the House is too short. I think term limits would be better if it was 12 or 14 years combined between the two chambers, so you could stay in one chamber or the other and not feel you have to move from one place to the other.
Early on in your time as Governor, you focused on overhauling the state’s tax policy and getting rid of a lot of targeted tax credits. In some ways, it seems like the pendulum is swinging back. Do you think that’s a step in the wrong direction?
I would argue, if you talk to most people, they want simple, fair and efficient as their tax system — in a fiscally responsible way. That’s the standard I use. The best thing most people would like to see, I believe, is they want to hopefully make a good income where they could take their income, apply a tax rate, write a check and be done with the tax system. I prefer to keep it as simple and as clean as possible. When you start picking winners and losers, you’re going to have people keep on bringing up how they want to win. That’s how you end up with a very complex system.
How does the federal tax overhaul fare against that standard?
To put it in context, the tax reform proposal the federal government’s putting forward would not meet my standard of simple, fair and efficient in a fiscally responsible way.