Metro DetroitFebruary 19, 2013
Snyder praises housing gains and discusses roads agenda
By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer
When Gov. Rick Snyder took a trip to Sterling Heights Feb. 13, he shared a simple message: Michigan and its building construction industry are getting their house back in order.
Speaking before the Home Builders Association of Southeastern Michigan at the Best Western Sterling Inn, Snyder called Michigan “the comeback state of the United States today.” And despite the housing industry’s recent years of suffering, he also said it is regaining strength.
“The quality of the product today only gets better and better,” he said. “Let’s work together, let’s succeed together and let’s continue to reinvent Michigan.”
Snyder said the housing industry seems to be back to about 2006 levels, and the forecast looks good for Michigan. He said home sales are up around 10 percent across the state, and home prices are up around 5 percent.
Snyder also said the auto industry is “coming back strong” and grouped agriculture and tourism with it as some of Michigan’s biggest industries.
He said government’s role is to create an environment for business success.
“I may be a nerd, but this isn’t rocket science,” he said. “The role of government is customer service, and you’re the customer. I have 10 million customers in this state. Every citizen is a customer.”
During his address, the Republican governor touted a philosophy of “relentless positive action” that focuses on solving problems instead of casting blame or taking credit. State. Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, told the Sentry Feb. 14 that several other factors are behind Michigan’s successes.
“(Snyder) happened to be elected, serving as governor, while the auto industry was being saved by Washington,” Yanez said. “The recovery has also been borne on the backs of middleclass families that live in Sterling Heights and Warren with increased taxes as well.”
The governor dishes on issues
After Snyder’s address, he sat down with the Sentry and discussed a few of the recent issues facing him and the state.
On the president: One day, after President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address, Snyder said he read the speech and noticed a couple of the same things that his administration has been promoting, such as early childhood education. “It’s nice they can follow up,” he said.
Obama has been publicly critical of the “right to work” legislation that Snyder approved in December. Snyder said that while the two don’t necessarily agree on everything, they have a professional relationship.
On paying for roads: Snyder shared more of his thinking behind his calls for an extra $1.2 billion in annual infrastructure spending on roads, bridges, rail and harbors.
Currently, state Senate bills propose increases in vehicle registration fees and a plan to tax gas at the wholesale level instead of the current formula. Some officials have also talked about raising the state sales tax from 6 percent to 8 percent while eliminating the current state gas tax.
Snyder said he believes a user fee is the most appropriate solution for paying for infrastructure upkeep. He said the public reception to his roads plan has been good so far, but the campaign is also challenging.
In the end, he said, it comes down to public perceptions. “How many people in Michigan like our roads?” he said. “Nobody does.”
Mike LaFaive from the pro-free market Mackinac Center for Public Policy agreed that the roads need to be repaired and preferred user fees to general tax hikes.
But LaFaive also said he would prefer to see spending cut plans or an agreement to offset any revenue hikes with cuts to the personal income tax. “The choice between two higher taxes is no choice at all,” he said.
Snyder told the Sentry that his administration has looked at spending and has been efficient in addressing that. He also said his proposal would also save money in the long run, adding that infrastructure costs could snowball into $25 billion around a decade later if the state does nothing now.
Snyder said his infrastructure push could involve more thorough repairs, as opposed to refilling potholes and other stopgap measures. He rejected the idea of attaching a sunset to infrastructure-related tax or fee increases.
“That just means we’d be setting up our kids to get a really big bill,” he said. “We haven’t been investing enough in our roads in years.”
On harbors: As part of the infrastructure problem, Snyder addressed the issue of harbors. The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that lake levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are at historic lows.
Snyder said he supports devoting around $21 million toward dredging and fixing the harbors. He said they must remain functional because they’re so vital for commerce, boat safety and tourism.
“Tourism is one of Michigan’s largest economic sectors,” he said. “If you think about the Great Lakes, they’re really important for that.”