Gov. Rick Snyder has a couple of takeaways from the West Michigan Policy Forum, which last week counted 450 participants from 230 Michigan businesses in almost 50 communities.
The group has been persistent in supporting funding for transportation and infrastructure issues since 2010, and 99 percent believe they have a direct impact on the economy. A full 97 percent are holding legislators accountable for their lack of will to invest in Michigan’s decomposing infrastructure.
Another of the action items focused on talent and education, and on this issue Snyder’s leadership is a glass half-full. He has championed legislative pre-K education funding initiatives to ensure preparedness and success for K-16 education, an emphasis that had been sorely lacking. Snyder told the Forum crowd “we made a mistake” in regard to the push for college attendance exclusively, devaluing skilled trades and vocational education.
That’s a miss he and legislators are now taking steps to correct, including training programs focused on specific industries. Grand Rapids area construction and manufacturing businesses are assisting that effort. (See the story on page 1 in regard to recent events at Herman Miller with backing of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.)
Snyder and legislators did fund teacher pensions but at the expense of grass-root, classroom education funds, and that is the disconnect between public school boards and parents and Snyder. The school funding formulas are difficult. As Granholm left office, federal stimulus funds were no longer available, hence one part of the depletion in direct budget contrasts. But Snyder provided public school districts with more than $500 million in payments to help cover Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System costs (a cost charter schools do not have).
Among the most conservative of the Forum speakers, “classical economist” Robert Genetski suggested legislators make further cuts in state spending on education and increase road funding. Economic studies show such redistribution will not create the high-wage environment in which business leaders want to do business.
Lou Glazer notes in this week’s economy column (page 18) a report from the Michigan Association of United Ways found “63 percent of jobs in Michigan pay less than $20 per hour, with the majority paying between $10 and $15 per hour. A job that pays $20 per hour full time totals $40,000 per year, which is about $10,000 less than the Household Survival Budget for a family of four in Michigan.”
While eschewing any increase in classroom or per-pupil funding, Genetski also suggested voters “elect the wrong policyholders and suffer” and “so we need an educated work force.”
Glazer’s Center for Michigan research time and again underscores the link between education and high-income states. Michigan cannot get to the rank of a high-wage state without full commitment to education.