Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 12, 2013

Governor: Fiscal house in order


---- — The reinvention of Michigan is working and we’re now known as the nation’s “Comeback State.”

The Michigan of today is stronger, healthier and ready for the challenges of our global economy. And, we’re building a rock-solid foundation to make sure the future is even better for our children.

Everyone knows we went through tough times, but Michiganders are resilient. And, today we can celebrate thriving places, such as the Traverse City area, that showcase the very best Michigan has to offer.

Our comeback story starts with a focus on creating an environment that encourages innovation, creating more and better jobs, and improving the quality of life for the state’s 10 million people.

A key part of that was getting the state’s financial house in order. Working with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and our partners in the Legislature, we’ve eliminated a $1.5 billion structural deficit without any accounting gimmicks. We’ve also put balanced budgets three years in a row – again without any gimmicks – and months ahead of schedule.

We’ve reduced the state’s long-term liabilities by more than $20 billion and rebuilt the state’s reserve fund. The fund once dropped down to $2 million, enough to run state government for about 30 minutes. Today, it holds about $580 million and we’ve got long-term plans in place to continue adding to it.

We also reformed our tax code, replacing the job-killing Michigan Business Tax – the dumbest tax in the nation – with the simpler, fairer Corporate Income Tax with a 6 percent rate, one of the lowest in the nation. With this change, Michigan’s job providers have seen a reduction of 80 percent or more in their state business tax burden, encouraging them to invest and grow and create more jobs.

We are aggressively pursuing regulatory reform and already have eliminated more than 1,500 unnecessary and burdensome regulations. Our focus is on removing the regulatory hurdles that hold back businesses, while maintaining necessary regulatory protection and oversight.

We recognized that Michigan can expand its economy and create jobs through “economic gardening,” which is helping the businesses already here to grow and thrive, rather than chasing companies in other states.

A prime example of this is our Pure Michigan Business Connect program. The concept is simple: we ask Michigan companies to do more business with each other. The idea is if they can get the quality goods and services they need from a Michigan company at a competitive price, it’s better for the state’s economy than using out-of-state vendors. The program doesn’t offer any credits or incentives. It’s just solid common sense to ask Michigan companies to work together for the benefit of each other and the state.

The results have been impressive. The state’s two major utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, have made $2 billion in commitments for in-state goods and services. It’s estimated those commitments alone will support 10,000 jobs. Each day, more companies are making such commitments.

Plus, several banks have made major loan commitments and other businesses, such as law firms and accounting firms, are offering pro bono services to help businesses grow and thrive. Pure Michigan Business Connect now has about $8 billion in total commitments and that amount continues to grow.

Without question, creating more and better jobs is our No. 1 priority. Nearly 223,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Michigan since the start of 2011. Michigan’s unemployment rate, which hit 14.2 percent at the state’s economic low point, had been cut by more than a third, to 9 percent, by the end of August.

The state’s improving economy is prompting more people to return to the marketplace in search of a job. That’s a clear sign of optimism and confidence in the state’s comeback.

There are good jobs available. lists nearly 67,000 jobs, but there’s a disconnect in the marketplace. Some workers still are finding it hard to land jobs and job providers are finding it difficult to get qualified workers to fill openings.

We’ve launched an effort to bridge that gap with government working with the private sector and educational institutions. We’re working on what I call the “Three Cs.” Those are: collaborating with the private sector to identify where the good jobs are today and where they will be in the future; creating talent by working with educators to offer programs that produce graduates who will be ready with the relevant skills for those jobs; and connecting the available talent with the needs of job providers.

We know it’s difficult for employees, especially those in low-wage jobs, to hold positions when they get sick and don’t have health care coverage. Working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, we created the Healthy Michigan program, which will strengthen the state by bringing coverage to 470,000 people, most of them working and earning less than $15,000 a year.

We’re telling the Michigan story around the globe. My recent trade mission to China, which included representatives from Traverse City’s Cherry Central Cooperative, allowed us to highlight Michigan’s agriculture and tourism opportunities in a huge potential marketplace.

Food and agricultural exports generated more than $2 billion in sales last year, and our goal is to increase that figure to $3.5 billion by 2015. China is a promising opportunity for our state’s farmers, with soybeans and blueberries being of particular interest.

We also spoke about our tourism industry and launched the Pure Michigan campaign in China. The Traverse City area is a premier vacation destination, with its spectacular scenery and recreational opportunities and thriving downtown.

There are no quick fixes to Michigan’s problems. But our proud history tells us that Michiganders know how to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We’ve made tremendous progress. Michigan is, indisputably, the nation’s “Comeback State.” And we are not done. We are positive, working together, and looking forward with confidence that our best days still lie ahead of us. Because they do.