HANCOCK - Gov. Rick Snyder is touring the Upper Peninsula visiting various businesses, and during a town hall meeting Monday at the Finlandia University Finnish American Heritage Center, he talked about his vision for the future of Michigan.
Also attending the meeting were State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Hancock Mayor William Laitila and Finlandia University President Philip Johnson.
Before taking written questions from audience members, Snyder gave an overview of what has happened in the state during his first term as governor.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder speaks Monday at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock. He also answered questions from members of the audience. Snyder was in the area touring businesses and the MTEC SmartZone, which celebrated its 10th year of operation. Looking on from left to right are Finlandia University President Philip Johnson, Hancock Mayor William Laitila and State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.
Snyder said the Michigan economy is picking up since 2009.
"If you stop to look at it, Michigan is the comeback state," he said.
However, the state has had the highest unemployment in the country for years, Snyder said.
Gov. Snyder Q&A
Here are some of the questions Gov. Rick Snyder was asked during the town hall meeting Monday at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock:
Q: What is the Do Something Michigan volunteer program?
A: dosomethingmichigan.com is a website created, particularly for younger people, but to get everyone involved. It's about being an ambassador for Michigan, volunteering and giving something back. We've got some really good things going on.
Q: Will the proposed bicycle trail from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood require paving part of the North Country hiking trail?
A: As we've outlined the trail, we've actually had communities come forward and say we want a piece of this trail. Walking can be part of it, biking can be part of it. Maybe we can have alternative trails.
Q: What is your administration doing to encourage railroad transportation to major metro areas?
A: We have a high-speed rail going on in southern Michigan, in terms of connecting Detroit and Chicago. They're bringing rail lines up to 110 miles per hour, which is a huge improvement. That project is moving ahead, and I think it will be done in a year or two. That will be very exciting. There's a more industrial and commercial application I'm interested in.
Q: What is your position on mining, oil and gas?
A: I believe in mining. Michigan put in the toughest set of rules in the country on mining. I think that was the proper thing to do. We put in the standard, now let's look to the standard and make sure people are living the standard and move forward, because it's about jobs and our future.
Timber is much the same thing. Timber has big opportunities. Oil and gas are pretty much the same thing. One of the big conflicts out there is fracking. Michigan has been fracking wells for decades. We fracked over 10,000 wells without problems.
Q: Can you share your thoughts on the Affordable Care act?
A: The Affordable Care Act was a misfire in many respects. I don't think it was achieving the goals it needed to achieve. There's some negatives we're going to face. You're going to pay about a billion and a half dollars in taxes to the federal government. Health care providers are going to lose, in terms of resources they otherwise would have had available about $800,000. There is one positive, and that's this concept of helping Michigan, which is expanding Medicaid. It's a version that's geared toward Michiganders. It encourages people to be healthier. I support that. I think it's important to help people who are lower income, but are hard-working people who don't have access to health insurance, and they end up in the (emergency room). It will save us money. What is (less) expensive? A visit to the ER or a visit to the doctor? A visit to the doctor, by several orders of magnitude.
"We were 50 out of 50 (states) for far too long," he said.
After being elected governor in 2010, Snyder said he went to a "new governor's" school, and at that event, each governor got a packet of information, which included a financial prediction for the states from 2009 to 2014, and Michigan was ranked as 50th.
"I simply rejected that," he said. "That's unacceptable."
Snyder said since 2009, 250,000 jobs have been added in Michigan.
However, Snyder said many Michigan residents aren't employed as fully as they should be.
"There's too many underemployed people," he said.
Although employment may be increasing, Snyder said incomes aren't where they were in the 1990s when Michigan ranked 17th for per capita income. In 2009, that ranking was 40th.
"We dropped over 20 states in 10 years," he said.
In the last three years, Snyder said that per capita income ranking rose to 35th.
"There is progress, but that's still not a good answer," he said.
Between 2000 and 2010, Snyder said Michigan was the only state to lose population, but that trend is reversing, also.
"That's because major industries are doing well," he said.
Snyder said two of those major industries that are growing are timbering and mining, which has special potential for growth.
"I think there's great opportunity to grow and create jobs (in mining)," he said.
Earlier in the day Monday, Snyder said he visited the MTEC SmartZone business incubators, and he said he thinks that is an example of efforts that will help Michigan recover economically.
Although the state may be recovering, Snyder said there are still too many people "hurting," and he thinks wages can be increased by providing better training for workers so they can get the higher-paying jobs.
That includes making college and other post-secondary education affordable for more people.
Snyder said he's continuing to work on the state's debt.
"We're modeling out to 2014," he said.
Snyder said there's more work to do to get the Michigan economy healthy again, and he wants to be part of it.
"We're getting there," he said. "I'm excited for the future."