Governor-elect Rick Snyder ran a campaign that included as one of its primary components a strong urban agenda. Now that he will be assuming the state's highest office come January, he will have a chance to make good on his promise to restore Michigan's urban core-namely the city of Detroit. As Snyder proclaimed during the campaign, "Michigan cannot be a great state until Detroit is on the path to being a great city."
It is easy to make the case that Detroit will continue to require a great deal of attention from the governor's office, but if soon-to-be Governor Snyder thinks that he might set out straight away to improve Detroit from the inside out, he may discover some immediate setbacks upon his arrival to work in Lansing.
To begin, Snyder will find Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb's departure only months away. Bobb announced in late October that he will honor the time commitments of his contract, but will not return to work thereafter. The governor-elect will need to select a replacement, but also is calling for a clear plan for the easement and eventual exit of the state from the district's affairs. Snyder wishes to return control of DPS to its superintendent and school board, and for Detroit voters to decide whether or not to hand the reigns to the city government.
Fiscal issues with the school district and the City will be laid at the new governor's feet. The City is in the verge of bankruptcy, despite efforts to shrink its operating budget, and Robert Bobb has proposed the forgiveness of the school district's $322 million deficit in exchange for drastic reorganization measures. Bobb is apparently meeting with Snyder regarding the affairs of the school district, but the governor-elect has stated that he is making "no promises" regarding Detroit's fiscal disaster.
Snyder, in his attempt to push a progressive transportation agenda, will find himself facing the following two issues in Detroit: the construction of a new bridge to Windsor, and legislation to create a three-county metropolitan transit authority. The former will likely go supported by the governor, but will ultimately require the approval of the Republican-controlled legislature, which is being lobbied heavily by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in opposition to the project.
The legislation currently on the table to create a metropolitan transit authority for Metro Detroit is, for the most part supported by governments and transit advocates in southeast Michigan, save for the primary intended benefactor: the City of Detroit. The city government is concerned that the proposal comes at the wrong time, as the transit agency may be the new designated recipient of future federal transit funds. This is especially of concern with plans the Woodward light rail line currently underway. The City is also concerned that no reliable source of funding has been designated, leaving the financial security of the agency in jeopardy upon its very inception.
Snyder may also find himself hard pressed to keep government programs running without any increase in revenue. Though he seems decisively opposed to tax increases, the reality of a rapidly declining state and local revenue base may force his hand in support of new revenue-generating measures. Whether his Republican cohorts in the legislature would allow this to occur would certainly be a great test of the caucuses' trust in the state's leadership.
Governor-elect Snyder may wish to hit the ground running in his quest to "reinvent" Michigan, but he may first need to overcome a severe political and economic reality check before he can implement his ambitious urban agenda. He himself may possess the mettle to stand by it, but the political landscape and the Michigan economy are obstacles that he may find more obstructive than anticipated.