Republican governors in the Midwest have been creating a lot of buzz over the last few years. From Wisconsin's Scott Walker to Ohio's John Kasich, GOP chief executives have been out front trying to fix their state budgets. But Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who has routinely been described as "one tough nerd," has been much more low-key in his style. He has largely avoided the harsh criticism that Scott Walker has endured. Nevertheless, he has been transforming his state's budget and fiscal situation too.
When Snyder was sworn in as Michigan's 48th governor on January 1, 2011, there had been years of political gridlock and fiscal shortsightedness that had given the state a $1.5 billion deficit.
I asked Governor Snyder to describe what has been happening in Michigan since he took office. Snyder told me, "I ran for office on a platform of "reinventing" Michigan because "fixing" our state isn't enough. Michigan needs to be reinvented if we are to take advantage of the opportunities that await us in a global economy." He said he wanted to make clear that "finger-pointing and placing blame does not solve problems."
Snyder quickly took steps to restore Michigan's fiscal integrity by eliminating the budget deficit, paying down long-term debt obligations and putting money aside for a financial cushion. In addition, he also brought fairness and simplicity to the tax structure.
Earlier this year, a statewide poll conducted by Lambert, Edwards & Associates saw an improvement in the Governor's approval rating with not just Republicans but with Democrats where his positives grew by 8 points while his negatives dropped by 9 points. Michiganders from both parties are gaining confidence in the state's direction.
Snyder says there isn't any magic or secret to governing, "Good government isn't a secret. A lot of it is common sense. Coming from a business background, I saw early on that government's role should be to provide the best possible customer service. Unfortunately, government has evolved into an entity that simply takes and spends our money. So Michigan is focusing on delivering quality customer service, and one way we're doing that is by involving those who deliver that service -- our wonderful state employees." He went on to say that "it's important to avoid the politics as usual mindset."
Governor Snyder and his team were upfront about the difficult financial situation and did not hide the fact that moving Michigan forward would involve shared sacrifices from everyone. Snyder said, "We didn't take the easy way out, or kick the can down the road so that future generations would face these same problems, we're now in a position where Michigan is reinvesting in such key priorities as education, public safety and transportation."
But Snyder isn't ready to claim victory yet. He told me, "No one should be satisfied. I'm certainly not. While Michigan's jobless rate is down considerably from 14 percent just two years ago, it is still unacceptably high. We still have our work cut out for us."
One area Snyder still wants to address is the state's personal property tax system, which penalizes job providers by taxing their equipment. He also wants to address the "skills gap" between employers and potential employees, reshape the educational system so it is based on student outcomes, and promote greater wellness in the state
I asked Governor Snyder if he had any budget advice for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and he quickly said, "Balance it! Mitt Romney and I share a business background. He understands that Washington is out of control and that all of this reckless spending is mortgaging the future of our children. Washington needs to follow Michigan's blueprint by having the courage to make tough but necessary decisions. When I took office, we did not have enough money in Michigan's rainy day fund to keep the state operational for 30 minutes but now we have half a billion dollars on hand."
Snyder is one to watch.