Michigan profits from Snyder’s long view

By Phil Power | Bridge Magazine

Broad agreement has been reached on the last of the budget bills, and the Legislature will soon adjourn. The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mackinac Island policy conference has come and gone. Summer, in other words, is almost here, a blessed pause before the noisy chaos of the fall’s political campaigns.

So this may be a good moment to step back and reflect on Gov. Rick Snyder’s first 18 months in office.

Conventional wisdom says his first year was a terrific success: Balanced budgets, delivered on time. He changed the tax environment; got a tougher new emergency manager system approved, together with a raft of reforms in local government. The business climate improved. This year, however, the same “wisdom” holds that things were different, that the governor had lessened momentum and increased difficulties in dealing with the Legislature.

That perception is understandable. But the difficulty with conventional wisdom is that it’s very often focused on the news of the day. There often is a big difference between today’s headline and a long-term trend. This is aggravated by the remorseless short-term of two groups: politicians, whose planning horizons are typically about 18 minutes; and the media, which are generally preoccupied with the next edition, broadcast or, worst of all, this moment’s  “tweet.”

In my mind, what distinguishes Snyder’s time in office so far is his emphasis on putting long-term thinking over the daily hurly-burly.

Take just two examples:

First, the drive to build a new Detroit River bridge. The New International Trade Crossing is generally regarded as one of Snyder’s failures, with Ambassador Bridge monopoly owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun scattering millions in campaign donations far and wide, and, so far, preventing legislative approval.

But it now looks as though the governor will get his bridge through a device called an “interlocal agreement,” which will enable him to get around legislators unwilling to vote against Moroun’s hand that has been feeding them.

Snyder has never wavered in his focus on the bridge (and, more generally, Michigan’s infrastructure) as a long-term game changer for our state. A new bridge, coupled with ideas to make Southeast Michigan into a multimodal logistics powerhouse, will, over the years, generate thousands and thousands of jobs and help diversify our manufacturing-based economy.

If this all comes together, it will be hard to overstate how significant these developments will be to our state’s future.

The governor hasn’t prevailed yet. But he already deserves credit for understanding that fundamental changes don’t happen overnight and take careful, consistent effort.

Click here to read the full column.