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Posted on Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

Rick Snyder or Virg Bernero: Can Michigan's next governor make a difference?

By Nathan Bomey

Call it a hidden issue in Michigan’s gubernatorial race between Republican Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero.

Policy proposals aside, can either candidate topple the thick partisan wall that divides Lansing and bring legislators to the bargaining table?


Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, Michigan's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Ann Arbor venture capitalist Rick Snyder, the Republican candidate, face each other in Tuesday's election.

Patricia Beck | Associated Press

Can the winner - who will be saddled with leading the charge to eliminate a $1.42 billion deficit that looms for the 2011-12 fiscal year - make a meaningful difference?

The code for disentangling Michigan’s legislative gridlock lies in the next governor’s people skills, said Craig Ruff, a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy and senior policy fellow at Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.

Ruff said the winner of Tuesday's election would enjoy a honeymoon period during which he’ll have a decent chance at pushing through legitimate reforms. But his ability to make friends and build a coalition is critical to smoothing the path toward change.

“The new governor has got to use personal persuasion. He’s got to get to know the legislators on a personal basis. Either one of the candidates for governor currently knows, at most, a handful of legislators personally,” Ruff said. “You’ve got to bring legislators over to your governor’s residence and wine and dine them, and look at them in the eye and tell them that your opinion matters.”

Whether the next governor can assemble a broad legislative coalition will determine whether Michigan gets business tax reform, a new economic development strategy, adjustments to state employee compensation and other changes.

Reviving Michigan’s economy - which has lost about 600,000 jobs in the eight years Jennifer Granholm has been governor - is sure to be the next governor’s priority.

But skeptics question whether the governor can make a difference - and whether the candidates’ proposals are fiscally plausible.

Snyder wants to replace the controversial Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax. Bernero wants to eliminate the MBT’s 22 percent surcharge.

The campaign issues you care about

But those tax cuts would require major structural budget changes in the 2011-12 budgeting season - changes that may prove to be politically unpopular.

“That’s where I think it will take great courage,” Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard said. “You can do it just by cutting spending. But we’ve already made such massive cuts. Of course, in this political environment, neither of them wanted to talk in the debate about what taxes they would raise. I’m in favor of eliminating (the MBT), but only if you make up the revenue from another source, because the budget crisis is so bad.”

Michigan’s budget crisis demands effective leadership, but it’s not the only place the governor can make a difference.

The next governor can vocalize support for an entrepreneurial movement in Michigan, fueled by startups, entrepreneurs and the state’s network of 15 public universities.

“The adaptability and implementation of change really lies in the private sector, and the private sector is run primarily by entrepreneurs who can exploit business opportunities and take risks and display a higher level of innovativeness,” said Ankit Mehta, president of MPowered Entrepreneurship, a student group that supports entrepreneurial activities at U-M.

“The governor can push for that.”

Mehta, a junior at U-M, said the next governor could provide leadership in pushing the educational system to integrate entrepreneurship into coursework and extracurricular activities. He said the next governor needs to help Michigan understand that risk-taking is the hallmark of an entrepreneurial economy.

“There needs to be inspiration and empowerment come from the government, but there also needs to be action and support that follows, whether it’s capital, whether it’s mentorships, other resources that can be available to students and community members that wish to make this change,” Mehta said.

Lou Glazer, president of Ann Arbor-based think tank Michigan Future Inc., said business tax cuts - which both candidates have proposed - wouldn’t save Michigan’s economy.

“I mean, read a book, there is no pattern of states with lower business taxes … having better economies. It doesn’t matter,” Glazer said. “What a governor can do - I think he can help us as individuals and the region adjust to the new realities, position us to do better in the new realities as opposed to changing the new realities.

“That’s a completely different agenda than what the public wants or, by and large, what either candidate is campaigning on.”

Glazer hopes the winning candidate places a heavy emphasis on revitalizing Michigan’s distressed urban cities - in particular, Detroit. His research indicates that talented young professionals flock to vibrant big cities. About half of recent Michigan college grads leave the state less than a year after getting their degrees.

Both Snyder and Bernero have said that injecting life and economic activity into Detroit and other major cities would be a key priority of their administrations.

“To give these guys credit, both Snyder and Bernero have the best urban policies since (former Gov. William) Milliken,” Glazer said. “In that, they’re both right.”

Convincing legislators and the public that those policies are worth a shot remains a significant challenge.

Term-limited Michigan State Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Lyndon Township, who ran unsuccessfully for a state senate seat in August’s primary election, said she’s optimistic that the next governor can break Michigan’s political gridlock.

“But I’m the eternal optimist,” Byrnes said. “I really believe, if you bring labor to the table, if you bring the budget people to the table, they have a part of it, rather than just saying, ‘This is what were doing, this is the legislation and you better like it.’ I think they need to be at the table with an idea that they’re going to have to compromise. That’s going to be up to the governor to ensure that’s the end goal.”

Rich Sheridan, CEO of Ann Arbor-based software firm Menlo Innovations, said the next governor’s success is predicated on the continued engagement of Michigan residents.

“The importance of it is what kind of leadership can he inspire in all of us?” said Sheridan, who is supporting Snyder. “This isn’t about sending one guy up to Lansing to say, fix everything and the rest of us are going to keep on with business as usual.

“The days of government is separated from community, is separated from business, is separated from the educational community - those days are gone. We have to have a collaborative effort in our state to achieve a common purpose.”

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


John Q

Mon, Nov 1, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

" I'm not looking forward to seeing my new "bill" of what I will have to pay for healthcare, now that the ObamaCare will be in effect. What do we need to do to repeal that mess anyway." Tell us what you'll be paying for that you're not paying for today?


Mon, Nov 1, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

@stunhsif - you are absolutely right. Rick CAN stop the bleeding, plug the holes, and right the ship. It will not be easy, but at least he is not beholding to any of the Unions. Rick is not doing any of this for his personal financial gain. He's taking all of this on because he really does think (and so do I and most of Michigan) that he can turn this around. GO RICK! Hopefully, what he says IS what he means, unlike Obama on the campaign trail. I am so disillusioned with Obama and his administration. I'm not looking forward to seeing my new "bill" of what I will have to pay for healthcare, now that the ObamaCare will be in effect. What do we need to do to repeal that mess anyway.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 10:53 p.m.

The fast and easy answer is NO! The better question is who can stop the bleeding and plug the holes in the ship? The obvious answer is Rick. Virg would simply give us 4 more years of being blown and sending even more jobs to Mexico and Canada.

Dan Stevens

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:21 p.m.

I am glad that Snyder supports the Michigan Turnaround Plan. It's a five-step plan to make Michigan a top-ten leader in economic growth. It's exactly what our state needs to right itself again. We have some of the best workers in the world, abundant resources and a well-educated citizenry. But the high costs of doing business here (attributable to our high taxes and lots of regulations) are driving away growth. That's why we need the plan. Learn about it here:

E. Manuel Goldstein

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:17 p.m.

Mr Bernero's proposal to start a state bank has much merit, and could possibly bring the economy of Michigan back to a state of health. Where this has been successful, in North Dakota, the current Governor, John Hoeven (R), also served as executive vice president of First Western Bank in Minot, ND from 1986 to 1993, and from 1993 to 2000, served as president and CEO of the Bank of North Dakota, during which time the bank's assets grew from $900 million to $1.6 billion. Since 1919, the Bank of North Dakota has been an engine for growth, weathered the Great Depression (and the current deep recession) intact, and continues to help North Dakota maintain one of the lower rates of unemployment in the nation by investing aggressively in energy development and lending to smaller businesses within their state. I saw where Republican candidate for Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder's campaign has dismissed Virg Bernero's state bank proposal out of hand. Such a dismissal is rather shortsighted, I believe, and indicates a lack of business sense (and the need to raise capital) needed to pull Michigan out of the proverbial ditch.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:17 p.m.

This is Awesome, we have some really smart people posting here! I love this country also that the Democrats and "progrssives" are trying to destroy. Thanks to all of you real Americans out there, our time has come. Eight years of a Canadian born governor that the unions endorsed. She will go to work for the Obama adminstarion, no doubt. Go Blue, and Go Red, White, and BLUE!


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 7:12 p.m.

Reading the comments you sure can tell who the leeching public sector(government) workers are. Hint. They arent cheering for Snyder!


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 5:59 p.m.

For those of you who have not filled in the MBT forms, give it a try. You too can have a couple of days of fun. Then the Health Care Bill adds a fun little twist with all the 1099s that are required. In all I expect I will lose a week on paperwork. Not exactly how you want to build a small business. Since it is a side business, I will probably close it. It is easier to do. I know several other folks who are planning to do the same thing. I have a couple of seasonal employees, for both it was the only work they had this summer. Yes, I am a greedy small business owner, lining my own pockets. I think after paying to have all the paperwork verified, I might make $20 or $30. I paid above average wages to my guys because I knew I had the best possible help and never had to worry about problems. The new higher credit card processing charges, the additional IRS paperwork, and other regulations make it not worth doing anymore. Class warfare is not useful. Labor vs Management is not useful. Republican vs Democrat is not useful. What is useful is helping to figure out how to get Michigan out of the ditch and on the road. Why are business moving to Tennessee, Texas and Nevada? This is one of the questions that we need to figure out. Examining the issues and looking at how others have solved it is useful. We can either work together, or we can all be unemployed separately. It is your choice.

John Q

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 4:50 p.m.

Correction to my comment on business taxes. Snyder also endorses a flat tax on corporate profits. Still, he wants to push the business tax to be based on ability to pay so that businesses that don't make a profit don't have to pay.

John Q

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 3:12 p.m.

To see the hypocrisy of Snyder and Michigan Republicans compare their stand on taxes when it comes to companies and individuals. 1. Business - Small businesses should be exempt from the Michigan Business Tax. Companies that don't make a "profit" shouldn't have to pay a tax. The more you make, the more you pay. 2. Individuals - Everyone has to pay the same rate, no matter how much you make. That means that the state income tax falls hardest on those of modest means as compared to the rich. To get an exemption, you have to be living at the poverty level, otherwise you pay even if your expenses exceed your income. In Rick's World, only businesses enjoy the benefits of progressive taxation. For individuals, it's all regressive taxation.

don clary

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 2:59 p.m.

Definitely yes if we elect Mr Synder AND elect Republicans to support him with his agenda.The transformation of Michigan will not happen overnite as he cannot undo the years that Michigan has been controlled by labor unions and the strong anti-business attitude that persist in the state. He must reduce business taxes and regulations as a 1st step to start businesses thinking about our state as a place to set up shop or expand existing businesses. We must then change Michigan to a right-to-word state to really jump start job growth. Mr. Synder must change the culture of Detroit and that will be the hardest task he will face. A culture of dependence and corruption has existed for so long that will be very difficult but Michigan will struggle to move forward with the dead weight of Detroit hanging over us. I have lived here over 45 years (moved from OHio) and have always said that Michigan has more to offer as a great place to live than any other place in the USA. Business decision makers and entrepreneurs are most influenced with were they will live. With our waters/hunting/small towns/colleges/schools/year around attractions, there is no better place than Michigan to live.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

I love how people assume that a business tax cut will possibly help stimulate job growth. Why do you think that? If I am a small business owner I am using that extra money to line my packets even more. After taking a huge financial hit over the past few years I am keeping my money close. So, now we cut taxes to help stimulate jobs, and they don't come. But we just cut taxes, where do we get the money to provide services to the people of Michigan. Oh, yeah, we will start taxing the middle class because banks and small business owners decide to keep their money and not invest it. I think that if Republicans could say for sure that businesses would start hiring, I would fully support them, but they can't make that promise.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 1:54 p.m.

Rick For Michigan... If you don't care about the state and would like to change its name to MichiChina.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 1:39 p.m.

@michiganface. Yeah, he "understands" all about the union mentality. The UAW definitely creates their own problems. Unions - such as the teachers' union - entitlement all the way. Just what we need - more of the same. NOT.

michigan face

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 12:37 p.m.

Vote Virg - his experience will be a huge asset - don't be fooled into thinking Michigan needs a "Businessman to run this state like a business. What's with this glorified idealistic view of Rick? Now is not the time to allow a greedy, wealthy businessman to gain more power for his egotistical interests and agenda. Voting for Virg makes sense! He understands the problems and solutions for all of us

David Briegel

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 11:42 a.m.

Tax cuts have proven two things. They line the pockets of the rich and they stimulate investment in the third world and China that share the "values" of the investor class. One years salary for a working couple into the hands of a millionaire. Progress, NOT!


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 11:28 a.m.

@Rodney, "with Snyder in office we can count on more jobs being sent to china, and no jobs being brought from china to here, he is an American TRAITOR" Either you are kidding or you have to be most uninformed person in Michigan. If you don't know, it was the Clinton admin. that signed NAFTA into law. He is also the one that eliminated Glass-Steagall Act that has led to the financial collapse we are seeing today. If you are not aware, BOTH the Democratic and Republican parties at the federal level are in the process of de-industrializing and destroying this great country. If we want jobs back, we have to renegotiate NAFTA and CAFTA and any other trade agreementS to make them FAIR. These agreements were put in place with clear advantages for our trading partners.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

with Snyder in office we can count on more jobs being sent to china, and no jobs being brought from china to here, he is an American TRAITOR


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

Discera and Neophotonics will become the next "Whitewater". Our governor will be preoccuppied with his own legal and PR problems. See what I mean in the following YouTube video.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

All I can say is GO RICK! I'm ready for a change in thought, perception, and turning Michigan into a "business", run BY a "businessman". Time to get a new perspective from the businessworld, as opposed to a career politician. I really think that Rick wants to try and turn things around, and will not be concerned about what he does whether or not he will get re-elected. He's not a career politician, and doesn't need the money.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

The headline leads one to think that this piece will survey, or at least touch on, a broad array of issues affecting the state. However, the only issue that gets any play is — surprise, surprise — the Michigan Business Tax. According to the Snyder campaign, this is the one relevant matter in the state. The realities for thousands of state residents who seek to fend off home foreclosure, while they continue looking for work, is viewed as a distraction from truly important concerns as defined by the Chamber of Commerce. Of course, Rick Snyder, the state GOP, and their minions would like us to believe that a collective $1.5 billion handout to business people will fix everything for us, making jobs plentiful. I think's it's a whole lot cheaper to wave a magic wand. And what better day to do that than on Halloween? In order to prevent an already very bad situation from becoming much worse, the Michigan Business Tax, along with the surcharge, must be left untouched for now. The surcharge itself may be deleted later, but only as one aspect of a major, progressive overhaul for Michigan's entire tax system. Snyder's plan to defund the state by ending MBT will add to financial crisis. Contrary to the spin offered by a vocal contingent of dedicated narcissists within the business 'community,' the future of the MBT really isn't the center of the universe in this state. A large-scale human disaster has been taking place In Michigan and throughout the country; the first priority for any elected official with an ounce of concern for others is to focus on doing their part to address this directly and constructively. Destroying the state budget to placate the comfortably well-off burghers at the Chamber won't cut it.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:03 a.m.

This is a strange piece of journalism--or is it intended as an opinion piece? Bernero and Snyder propose different approaches to changing the business tax, but the significance of these differences aren't explained. Glazer says tax cuts won't help, but his assertion isn't examined. And we're given to the enthusings of an undergraduate about the mystical powers of entrepreneurship--including the puzzling idea that the next governor should push to integrate entrepreneurship into coursework. Where is a credible job of reporting and analyzing viewpoints about the political and economic challenges, and the policy choices. that face this state?


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 9:02 a.m.

Of course the next governor can make a difference if it happens to be Snyder. If Bernero wins we will have no difference, as all democrats are in the back pocket of the large state unions and can NEVER make substitive changes in benefits these unions extract from taxpayers. And no democrat will ever try to change Michigan to a right to work state. Just two small areas Snyder has a chance to change. For those of you who are stuck in the mud on abortion and gay rights, Nothing is really going to change there with either candidate.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

Sadly, I believe the answer is no. Both candidates are actually pretty moderate in their views and approaches and that is not in style in Lansing. Shrieking, soundbites and lack of detail would seem to characterize most who are running for office in the legislature rather than a well thought out approach that voters can understand. Cut taxes? Sure but what programs and services are you really going to cut? Create jobs? We all like that but what are you going to do to create them? Of course the ever popular "I will make government more efficient" never ceases to amaze me because no one says (or sadly asks) - how Synder had the guts to put his ideas in writing and share them broadly - kudos to him! Bernero seems to actually created jobs, great. The ultimate concern of mine is this is what we voters seem to want. Sound bites, name calling, partisan divides, anger and hate, yes hate. Why do we have the name calling, the phony ads, etc? They work that's why, we elect them and sadly we deserve them. Sydner and Bernero have actually run pretty good campaigns, it's the rest of them that worry me. Firesign Theater once remarked, "we are all Bozo's on this bus" How true, and we actually owe an apology to Bozo

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

As the Republican Landslide approaches this Tuesday - the House could switch hands in Lansing. - Dems have thrown +$100k at some close races with negative media buys, but too little too late - a waste of time.. If Snyder and the Republicans win the Senate and the House - they will be able to move legislation quickly - that in itself could re-build our 'business confidence'. Could begin to ease local bank loan requirements - given a brighter outlook? Less business risk - maybe? Could improve optimism across the job-maker class (ala Granholm cheer leading) and hire back some of those 600,000+ lost. Lots of cash is sitting on the sidelines perhaps this Landslide will get investments rolling again. All Small Business is the key - fast acting, fast growing, risk taking, idea rich, and they are in every business sector. Start that engine and Michigan can be saved.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

That's funny. When I read the headline, I thought this article would be about improving Michigan's economy. The obvious answer to the question posed in the headline, "Can Michigan's next governor make a difference?" is "Of course not! We're in a depression." Any "partisan wall" in Lansing is peanuts compared to the Grand Canyon we'll see in DC for the next year.


Sun, Oct 31, 2010 : 7:49 a.m.

I think Sheridan's quote above is the most salient comment in the whole article. A governor and the legislature can only do so much. A real leader would get everyone involved, not just his or her political party and supporters. People are really the key, and it doesn't matter if the person is a Republican or a Democrat, if he or she alienates everyone else.