LANSING, Mich. — Now that Gov. Rick Snyder has laid out his plans for boosting the economy in 2012, voters are getting a chance to ask questions about his initiatives.
The Republican governor has scheduled an online discussion on his Facebook page beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday. Residents can post questions on Facebook and Twitter based on the State of the State speech Snyder delivered Tuesday night or on other topics.
"One of my resolutions for 2012 is to spend even more time meeting with Michigan residents to discuss the important issues facing our state. With that in mind ... I will hold an online town hall meeting to answer your questions about my plans for the year ahead," Snyder told voters Tuesday.
He didn't propose many sweeping changes for the year ahead during his second State of the State address, saying he wanted to focus instead on finishing what didn't get done last year. That includes putting an exchange in place so the uninsured can shop for health insurance, raising $1.4 billion more for road and bridge repairs, outlawing elder abuse, fighting obesity, lowering crime rates and getting more computerized teaching used in classrooms.
The speech was applauded by GOP lawmakers but drew disappointed comments from Democrats and those who wanted more emphasis on dealing with issues such as poverty, education and job training for the tens of thousands of residents still looking for work or better jobs. They criticized the speech as being largely a rehash of the governor's pro-business initiatives rather than addressing the problems affecting average Michigan residents.
"Snyder's speech was heavy on happy talk and light on specifics about how we can put people back to work," said Todd Cook of We Are the People, a coalition that unsuccessfully fought efforts to lessen jobless and workers' compensation benefits last year.
"It's clear the governor wants to give even more handouts to big corporations that outsource jobs at the expense of our kids, seniors and working families," Cook added. "To get our economy moving again, we need our elected leaders to stop the partisan games and start working together to build an economy that works for everyone."
Democrats opposed the cuts the Snyder administration and GOP lawmakers made to public schools, universities and local governments and want the state to invest more in education.
Snyder didn't offer any specifics on spending, leaving those plans for his Feb. 9 budget presentation. Instead, he praised private businesses for helping improve Michigan's economy last year by adding 80,000 manufacturing, service and other jobs, helping to push the unemployment rate down to 9.3 percent.
That's the lowest the rate has been since September 2008 and is nearly 2 percentage points lower than when Snyder took office a year ago. Some of the drop is attributable to people who have stopped looking for work or moved out of state. And not all sectors have seen growth. Michigan lost 13,000 government jobs last year as public schools, universities and local governments handed out pink slips, largely because of state cuts.
"A lot of the positives he took credit for, like the lowest unemployment rate since 2008 and the comeback of the auto industry, were the result of President (Barack) Obama's policies, not his," said Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson of Highland Park.
Snyder's new priorities in 2012 include asking the Legislature to put the Education Achievement Authority that will oversee failing schools into statute so its legal authority is clear. An EAA has been created to oversee failing Detroit schools starting in September, but more schools in the state could fall under its purview once the law is in place.
Snyder also wants to work with the Legislature to pass laws requiring candidates and political groups to file campaign financial reports more frequently and barring public employees in charge of government contracts from going to work for a company that gets government contracts for at least six months after they leave their government job.
He didn't blame Republicans who have blocked his drive to build the New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River but urged them to reconsider.
"Let's not let special interests hold back a great opportunity for job creation, especially since this project can be done without any Michigan taxpayer dollars," he told lawmakers. "We need to continue our efforts since it's not a bridge issue, it's a jobs issue."
Snyder recapped the changes made during his first year in office, including cutting business taxes by more than $1 billion, asking retirees and other individual taxpayers to pay more, strengthening the powers of financial managers overseeing failing cities, requiring schools and local governments to operate more efficiently and creating a state website to help workers find jobs.
Not all of the changes have been popular. Critics are collecting signatures to try to put a referendum on the financial manager law on the ballot in November because the managers can nullify collective bargaining agreements and take away powers from elected officials. Snyder defended the law, saying it has been used sparingly and won't be used to place a financial manager in Detroit if city officials and unions can agree on how to get the city back on its feet.
Snyder tied other aspects of his speech to job growth, such as his new focus on driving down crime rates through a combination of new jobs, changes to the justice system and other initiatives. Snyder plans to give a special policy speech on the topic in March.
He also expects to focus on energy and the environment, with a policy address planned for fall.
"We cannot afford to slow down," the governor said. "We must maintain the sense of urgency we had all of last year. We must finish what we started."
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