Q&A: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder discusses 2012 election and his stance on statewide ballot proposals
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that if Proposal 1 is approved, Public Act 4 would remain in effect and Michigan would continue to have its emergency manager law.
Michigan voters on Nov. 6 will decide on six statewide ballot proposals. Those deal with issues ranging from the state's emergency manager law to collective bargaining rights to renewable energy and a new international bridge from Detroit to Canada.
Gov. Rick Snyder is actively campaigning to defeat five of the six proposals. The only one he's in favor of is Proposal 1, which, if approved, would keep Michigan's emergency manager law.
Snyder sat down with AnnArbor.com on Monday to explain his positions on the proposals and discuss the 2012 election.
AnnArbor.com: It's campaign season and you don't have a re-election of your own to worry about. So tell me, how are you spending your time leading up to the election?
Snyder: There are a lot of important projects we have going in state government, so I continue to work on those as the top priority. In addition, one of the things I've been out doing a lot of is discussing the ballot proposals, really trying to help educate the public about it because there are so many misleading ads. It makes it very confusing. I just really encourage people to do their homework.
AnnArbor.com: Proposal 1 is a referendum on Public Act 4, the controversial emergency manager act you signed into law last year. What happens if the law is defeated? Will you take that as a message from the people of Michigan that they don't want the state interfering in local affairs?
Snyder: That's something that we'll just need to wait and see. I mean, that's a hypothetical. As a practical matter, Public Act 4 does a number of good things. It was an improvement. We've had an emergency manager law going back to Gov. Blanchard, Public Act 72.
AnnArbor.com: Proposal 2, which is being backed by labor unions, would enshrine in the state's constitution the right to collectively bargain. Why do you view this as a bad idea?
Snyder: It's really not about collective bargaining, in my view. I believe in collective bargaining. I've done it successfully twice with state employees. Federal law protects it in the private sector; state law protects it in the public sector. I call this the 'back in time' proposal because it would really take us back to a much more difficult economic environment. It would really say potentially 170 laws could be taken off the books, and just think about that. What amount of chaos would result simply in figuring out what laws are still around and what aren't? And how long might that take?
It also could be a huge cost increase for state and local government. We've done a lot of reforms to make things more comparable with the private sector and there are estimates that show this could cost more than $1 billion a year in additional costs to taxpayers.
AnnArbor.com: How much of this do you think is about the threat of right-to-work legislation? And would you sign right-to-work legislation if it came across your desk?
Snyder: I don't think this has anything to do with right-to-work directly. Again, this was about going back in time and essentially changing the rules to take 100-plus laws off the books that could go back to the '60s. I've been very consistent that I didn't want right-to-work on the table.
AnnArbor.com: Proposal 3 would require utility providers in Michigan to get at least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. That goes a step beyond the current standard of 10 percent by 2015. Proponents argue this would create jobs in clean energy and benefit the environment, and they argue new wind energy is cheaper than new coal. Are they wrong?
Snyder: Proposal 3 is terrible public policy for a couple reasons. One is we do have a 10 percent by 2015 standard and we're in the process of meeting that. But why don't we see how that continues to work out and really make a thoughtful assessment about what worked well with that, what didn't work well, how much it would cost to do the next steps, what are the values of the next steps?
Proposal 3 would embed the 25 by '25 standard in our constitution, which would be disastrous. For all those ads talking about other states having standards, those are all by statute. And one of the reasons you don't want it in your constitution is we lack federal energy policy. If you don't know what the federal government is going to do for the next 15-plus years, how are you going to be able to effectively build a standard that you're locked into? I'm a supporter of renewables as part of the portfolio, but let's do it in a thoughtful way that you can figure out how best to respond to a federal government that is erratic at best in terms of their federal energy policy.
AnnArbor.com: So would you support achieving the same goal of 25 percent by 2025 through legislative means?
Snyder: I can't say I would support that goal. I think we should have some new goal when we're done with the 10 percent by 2015, but I think that's when we should sit back and say what would be a good number and let's do it in statute and let's do it in a thoughtful, cost-efficient, scientific way.
AnnArbor.com: One of the ballot questions that's getting less attention is Proposal 4, having to do with in-home care workers. In your opinion, what are the implications here?
Snyder: If you look at the history of it and where the dollars came from to put that proposal on the ballot, it's really a case of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) trying to continue to collect $6 million a year from home health-care workers who are in many cases taking care of relatives. So essentially they're taking union dues away from a family that could otherwise use them to support their family.
AnnArbor.com: You're against Proposal 5, which would require that any future increases of the state tax rate or tax base be approved by either a two-thirds majority of the Michigan Legislature or a statewide vote. What are your main reasons for opposing this one? Do you have plans for further tax reforms that could trigger this requirement if written into the state constitution?
Snyder: This isn't just about tax increases. On the face of it, some people may think this is a good thing. But this really would impact many fashions of tax reform or actually tax reductions, because it talks about any increase in rate or base. To use one illustration, we would still have the Michigan Business Tax today, which I don't think anyone would want. That was a disaster. That didn't pass by a two-thirds margin, and this requirement would have applied because we replaced it with a 6 percent net income tax for corporations that was simpler, fairer and more efficient.
In terms of looking forward, I always hope to do better reforms, lower taxes for our citizens. I don't have anything immediately on the table.
AnnArbor.com: Proposal 6 is the big one we've all seen the ads about. A yes vote on this throws another hurdle in the way of building a second bridge to Canada by requiring local and statewide voter approval. Why not let voters have a say? Or is it more complicated than that?
Snyder: If you think about it, when have we ever said you need to go to a vote of the people for a bridge? Did we do that for the bridge over State Street here? No. This is part of a normal infrastructure investment and this is a case where this is a great opportunity that we had already done an arrangement with Canada where they're going to put up the money, so it's going to be Canadian investment paid for by tolls from the bridge. This doesn't actually require any Michigan taxpayer dollars, so you have to beg the question: If it doesn't require any Michigan taxpayer dollars, didn't require an appropriation through the Legislature, does it necessarily need to go to a vote of the people when it's just a project that's going to create a lot of jobs?
AnnArbor.com: Say that Proposal 6 does pass. What's the worst that could happen? Does this throw a significant hurdle in the way?
Snyder: It throws more lawsuits. And again, that doesn't help anyone. Wouldn't it be better if we got the bridge project going and actually started creating jobs? Because this is about 10,000 construction jobs and more importantly, long-term trade jobs that would be all throughout Michigan. So it's a great opportunity for Michigan, and the longer we delay, the likelihood is this project could end up going to New York, happening someplace else, and we'd lose that opportunity permanently.
AnnArbor.com: What are your predictions for the 2012 election as far as the state House goes? Are there any key races you're trying to lend a helping hand in?
Snyder: I'm trying to get around the state and make sure I'm communicating well what's gone on with the reinvention of Michigan, so it's not campaigning for candidates as much as really getting out there and talking about the progress we've made. We've a lot of progress, and that's why I encourage people to look at it. That's why I think it's important to maintain the Republican majority in the House. We've gotten a lot done, but our work isn't finished.
AnnArbor.com: The Democrats are trying to use to their advantage what's become known as 'Bolgergate,' the election scandal involving House Speaker Jase Bolger and Rep. Roy Schmidt. Do you think that's going to hurt the GOP's chances of keeping a majority in the House?
AnnArbor.com: If the Democrats do pick up the 10 seats they need to take back the state House, how do you see that impacting your agenda in the next legislative session?
Snyder: Again, it could slow down the reinvention of Michigan. We're making great progress now. We're the comeback state. I think that can be shown in several different dimensions, so I'm going to keep going and (a Democratic majority) could delay or stall that or take us backwards again.
AnnArbor.com: The Democrats are doing their best to remind voters of cuts in education funding that were made under your administration, including a 15 percent reduction for public universities. They're arguing those cuts were unnecessary and served to finance major tax breaks for businesses. Do you still think you made the right choices? And where do we go from here with education funding?
Snyder: Yeah, we made the right choices, because we had a $1.5 billion deficit and that's tough. We had to address that in some fashion, and in fact, when you look at our education overall, we cut K-12 much less than most any other field we had to cut, so we really prioritized education.
You keep on hearing people talk about 'education funding.' It's not about just spending money. I mean, that's the problem. It's not about spending money and just not about the adults. I'm focused in on the kids, the students. We have not done what we need to do in terms of student growth. So it's not about putting more money against something. It's actually designing a system to focus in on student growth, so our students can succeed. That's my top priority.
AnnArbor.com: The Democrats argue the cuts to K-12 and higher education have resulted in tuition increases and layoffs and larger class sizes. Are those outcomes you expected and are OK with?
Snyder: In terms of K-12, we only cut a couple percent, which was much less than we had to cut the whole budget. So that's dramatically different in terms of the way they explain it, so first they need to get their facts straight in terms of what the realities are. And secondly, if you look at it, we only had 17 percent of our kids come out college-ready from high school. That's a travesty.
And so spending more money to get it to 18 percent isn't the answer. It's more saying, how do we redo our system? Our goal should be 100 percent instead of adding just more money to a system that's not delivering the results the students deserve. I think we can do a lot more by being more efficient and coming up with ideas to deliver better results at a lower cost.
AnnArbor.com: You're nearing the end of your second year as governor. You have two more years starting Jan. 1. What are your latest thoughts on seeking another four-year term?
Snyder: There's a lot more I want to do, so I'm inclined to say I should keep going and that's the feedback I get from most people. I'm not formally announcing anything.
AnnArbor.com: You endorsed Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race. From your perspective, what does it mean for Michigan if Mitt Romney is elected versus Barack Obama?
Snyder: I think he would be a better choice. Washington is a mess. That's one thing everybody agrees on. The current Washington is unacceptable in terms of budgets, deficits, the need to pay down debt, and tax reform. Washington is one of the single-biggest things holding faster growth and better growth in Michigan back. In fact, I tell people we're the role model for what Washington needs to do. We've balanced our budget the fastest in 30 years, we're paying down our debt, we've reformed our tax system and we've got a lot of good things going on.