Friday, January 07, 2011

STATE OF DETROIT 2011, part 1:
Coming of the Nerd
If this author hasn't indicated so already, happy new year! Of course, despite the popular saying this time of year of "out with the old, in with the new", the City of Detroit and southeast Michigan are still facing plenty of old issues in the new year. A new governor is now in office in the person of Rick Snyder, the GOP candidate and self-described "tough nerd" who was a dark-horse candidate that surprised even those in his own party, capturing the governorship in a landslide victory over Democratic opponent Virg Bernero. Having had a wide advantage in voting polls vs. Bernero, Snyder opted to only have one official debate, and in comparison to Bernero, Snyder spent scant time campaigning in Detroit.
Governor Snyder has promised to have a two-year budget prepared for vote in the Michigan state legislature by July of this year. Among his stated policy priorities are revising Michigan's tax structure, eliminating a state budget deficit of over $1.5 billion, and engendering a better climate for job creation. He also has pledged to have an open ear to hear Detroit's issues, publicly acknowledging that without a prosperous Detroit that the state of Michigan can never live up to its full potential. In a display of what one could alternately describe as shrewd or cloying, Detroit mayor Dave Bing was the master of ceremonies at Snyder's inauguration in the state capitol of Lansing.
Whether Snyder's public statements about being more open to assisting Detroit will bear fruit remains to be seen. The state legislature continues to be GOP dominated, Republicans having a 'supermajority' in the state Senate and a statistical majority in the state House. The only pockets of Democratic representation are in the City of Detroit and its immediate vicinity, as well as a few others in or near Michigan's other major urban centers like Grand Rapids and Flint. Local news columnists in Detroit have opined that Snyder, a self-described moderate, will have to learn to reign in the stauncher conservative idealogues in his own party while still having open dialogue with Democratic officials in order to avoid the partisan gridlock that defined most of former governor Jennifer Granholm's tenure.
Already Snyder is breaking with some traditions- for one thing he will be commuting to Lansing from his family's Ann Arbor home every day for work, bypassing the state-owned governor's residence in Lansing. Also, as many photos will indicate, Snyder tends not to wear ties. The latter is certainly a non-issue for the sensible. As for the former, this author's hope is that the commute allows the governor time to consider some important topics: Not the least of which is addressing Michigan's infrastructure- roads, bridges, and public transit, especially rail. Michigan is among states that spend the least on transportation policy, and this has got to change. Young professionals are moving to cities with comprehensive alternative-transit options already in place like Chicago, New York and the California Bay. There is certainly existing landspace for new factories to get involved in creating next-generation buses and rail cars, if only such a proposition could get some mainstream traction. Funding for improved transportation options must be confronted head on, and it is on this issue that anti-tax zealotry will be put to the test.
By this time next year, Michigan residents will have a better idea on what kind of leader Rick Snyder is. In particular, this author wants him to be a governor that seeks to uplift the state's urban centers and reject any legislation that would effectively marginalize Detroit.

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