Detroit: Rick Snyder’s Greatest Failure

DetroitIn the run up to the 2010 elections Michigan voters were led to believe that Rick Snyder could fix our problems because as one of his campaign ads stated “He’s the only businessman running so he’s the only one that even knows what he’s doing”. In light of the chapter 9 bankruptcy filing by Detroit yesterday many have to be wondering where was all this business wisdom two and a half years ago when “one tough nerd” took office.

Shortly after his election Rick Snyder said “Michigan cannot be a great state until Detroit is on the path to being a great city”. Such language suggests that Rick Snyder’s number one priority would be fixing the financial issues with Detroit because in his own words anything less means, making Michigan a great state, was not his primary goal. Yet when listing his accomplishments for the past two years none of them address the obvious problems that according to the governor he was uniquely qualified to solve.

2011 Rick Snyder list of accomplishments.

1. Eliminated the Michigan Business Tax.
2. Taxed some pensions and cut personal income tax credits and deductions.
3. Signed a balanced budget three months ahead of the deadline.
4. Strengthened the position of emergency financial managers.
5. Required additional cost-sharing by public employees for health care and other benefits.
6. Revamped teacher tenure and linked evaluations partly to student performance.
7. Developed financial incentives for schools and communities to adopt cost-cutting “best practices.”
8. Threw out Michigan’s tax-credit strategy for economic development.
9. Lifted the cap on charter schools authorized by state universities.
10. Eliminated the state law requiring every item on a store shelf be individually marked.
11. Traveled to Asia to build relationships in hopes of attracting investment.

2012 Rick Snyder list of accomplishments.

1. Moving forward with the New International Trade Crossing, which will bring more and better jobs to Michigan.
2. Personal Property Tax reform
3. Eliminating regulations – 13 rules eliminated for every new rule we added
4. Pathways to Potential, a new initiative that puts social workers directly in schools. The program is in over 20 schools today with a focus on Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw and Detroit, and is expected to reach 120 schools by springtime
5. A conference on infant mortality, a conference on helping the disabled, and new legislation to assist families coping with autism
6. Efforts to revitalize cities across Michigan
7. Improving public safety, with one new trooper school graduated and another on the way
8. Efforts to revitalize Detroit, including a new authority to restore Detroit lighting
9. The creation of a Regional Transit Authority for southeast Michigan, an effort which took 40 years to achieve
10. The creation of Virtual Cities, which allows municipalities like Grand Rapids and Livonia to collaborate in order to save money
11. Blight removal, including tearing down blighted properties and improving others
12. Reform of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System in order to ensure it’s on a sustainable path for the future. Thanks to pension reform efforts, Michigan now has a plan to pay down $20 billion in liabilities.
13. Education reforms including dual enrollment, performance metrics for schools, and the creation of the Education Achievement Authority, which is helping 15 schools in Detroit
14. Pure Michigan’s continued success
15. A series of “good government” initiatives to help strengthen communities and protect taxpayers
16. Improving state government with Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley’s work on the Bureaucracy Busters program, a social media initiative that calls on state of Michigan employees to offer innovative ideas for enhancing efficiency, customer service and the workplace.

While improvements in public education and lighting in Detroit were nice window dressing, this is a man who ran and was conceivably elected on his business acumen. Neither of these “accomplishments” does anything to address the financial situation that brought down Detroit. But rather than lead the resurrection of the town that Rick Snyder himself designated as the key to Michigan’s success the governor said “Right now, my role is to be a resource. When people say, ‘We need help,’ we are ready to assist.”

Where was this passive – “will of the people” – Rick Snyder when voters said no to emergency manager laws, or when the public and his own party opposed the new bridge to Canada? Where was the contact your representative passion the governor has exhibited for Medicare expansion when it came to the most important city in his state? And since when does leadership include watching people fail when you have the knowledge and the power to help.

Rick Snyder may not be to blame for Detroit’s fall from grace but standing idly by while his greatest asset imploded is not the work of a great businessman or a great governor. It is the action of man who is out of his depth. And this failure to act could take decades for the state to recover from.

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