Editors, publishers give Gov. Snyder warm welcome Gov: Job one is jobs

By John Minnis

Legal News

Even before Gov. Rick Snyder spoke, editors and publishers attending the 2011 Annual Convention of the Michigan Press Association last week welcomed the state's new head geek with a standing ovation.

"Our guest speaker today, and we are glad to have him," said Dirk Milliman, MPA public policy spokesman, "is Gov. Rick Snyder."

In citing Snyder's long list of accomplishments, Milliman pointed out that Snyder, as Gateway computer's 763rd employee, went on to become the company's president and COO. Upon "retirement" from Gateway, Snyder returned to his native Michigan, where he was appointed in 1999 by Gov. John Engler as head of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Snyder also "wrote the business plan" for Ann Arbor SPARK, an "open source economic development" business incubator for the Ann Arbor area.

"As governor," Milliman said, "Gov. Snyder will lead the way."

With that, the hundreds of editors and publishers attending the annual MPA convention at the Renaissance Center in Detroit Jan. 27-29 stood and welcomed the new governor, upon whom the entire state is betting to pull Michigan out of perhaps its longest slump since the beginning of the automotive era.

"Last year was a candidate forum," said Snyder, referring to the 2010 convention in Grand Rapids. "I like this format a whole lot better."

Referring to his recent State of the State address, the governor said, "I highlighted a roadmap for the state. I think what we have been missing is a plan."

Snyder said his first priority as governor is jobs. "Job one is jobs," Snyder said.

After jobs, his honeymoon agenda includes budget and tax reform, government reform and education reform.

"That's just the first half of the year," Snyder said, "the first 180 days. We have a target-rich environment of issues to address."

A technology geek, Snyder trumpeted the "dashboard" approach. Dashboard is a term taken from automotive and web technology where real-time information is collated from various sources to provide real-time analysis as to how a business is operating, much like the dashboard of a vehicle.

"That's the approach we're going to take through every department in state government," he said. "A year from now on the list of overused words I hope dashboard is on it."

About turning Michigan around, Snyder said, "It's not about 'me.' It's about 'we.' What I hear from all over the state is 'we' are in this together."

He said some people have told him, "'I didn't vote for you, but I want you to succeed.' People know they have to sacrifice, but they just want us to do it the right way."

Snyder said the hardest thing to turning Michigan around is "changing our culture."

"We have been our own worst enemy," he told the publishers and editors present. "It is time to stop being negative. It is time to stop looking in the rearview mirror."

He acknowledged the job of newspapers.

"The press plays an important role," Snyder said. "You have a right to be skeptical. You should ask questions. But don't be blinded. The old way didn't work. It was broken."

The former Gateway executive said one of the biggest surprises moving into the governor's office was the square computer screen he was provided. As a computer whiz, he knew that square screens are much more expensive and less economical than rectangular (landscape) screens. When asked why the square screen, the state IT guy said "they" provided it.

"That was a great revelation," the governor said. "I'm still looking for 'they.' Who are 'they' and where do 'they' reside? Even as governor, 'they' still tell me what to do. But that's just a short-term situation."

When asked about balancing competing interests, such as the controversy over eliminating price stickers on items, Snyder said he has two questions and two caveats:

1) How does it benefit all the people of the state of Michigan?

2) Who is the smartest person on the other side of the issue?

3) Don't come asking for funding.

4) Don't say "because we've always done it that way."

Snyder was asked if he favored bringing back the Michigan Promise Scholarship for high school students. He agreed that the way it was taken away from students and families who were counting on it was wrong. But he also did not like the across-the-board approach. Even his son qualified, though "we didn't need it" (or accept it).

When asked what competing states are doing right that Michigan could adopt, Snyder pointed to Michigan's own MEDC model that Indiana is using to greater success than Michigan.

"We lost our way," Snyder said of the MEDC, which he once led. "We had the right model."

Of key concern to Michigan editors and publishers, Snyder said he favors the Freedom of Information Act "because it makes it more challenging for special interests. It is our friend."

Responding to a question about public education, Snyder said, "We put third-grade reading on the dashboard. It is a good measure of preschool. We should have a P-20 rather than a K-12 model."

Snyder was also concerned about Michigan students not completing degrees.

"We have a lot of people entering college but not finishing," he said. "We've got to do something about that."

One student about to graduate college asked the governor what he was going to do to make sure he has a job to go to.

"We want you to stay here (in Michigan)," Snyder said. "I appreciate that. Jobs are job one, and we want to keep young people in the state."

Snyder said it is not about the government providing every job, but about people helping people. He encouraged the editors and publishers to become mentors.

"When we create a mentor relationship," the governor said, "the likelihood they will stay here goes way up."

On the way down from Lansing, Snyder said, he heard on the radio what his economic plan was, "or rather what people thought it was. It was interesting. I might use a couple of those."

He also railed against tax credits for favored businesses or industries. "Instead of hiding them in the tax code," he said, "have them go before appropriations."

The governor also favors replacing he Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent net tax. "The MBT is just a dumb tax," Snyder said.

Detroit Legal News President Brad Thompson agreed.

"The day you get rid of the MBT," he told lawmakers, "is the day I start hiring."

Though a Democrat, 1st District State Rep. Tim Bledsoe liked what he heard from Snyder.

"I fully support what he is trying to do," Bledsoe said following Snyder's speech. "He's doing evidence-based decision-making. I like that."

Published: Tue, Feb 1, 2011

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