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Howes on election risks and rewards

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

To hear the two candidates for governor on the campaign trail, Michigan’s either finishing another “Lost Decade” or it’s poised for another one.

Couldn’t be further from the truth. Simple fact: whatever you think of Rick Snyder and his eight years as governor, his successor’s gonna inherit the best economy in at least 30 years. Jobs up. Per capita income up. Foreign investment rising. Unemployment down and plumbing record lows.

Not that you hear any of that from Snyder. The two-term governor is ghosting the campaign whose victor could cement or mostly destroy his legacy. It’s one of recovery, reinvention, and re-engagement, marred as it is by a Flint water crisis that he owns, too.

There’s more: Automakers and their suppliers are coming down from the longest expansion of sales and profits since the Golden Age of the 1960s. Their transformation into transportation technology companies is gaining traction, mostly because they’re proving it with what they do not what they say.

Detroit, for decades America’s poorest and most dysfunctional major city, is on an unmistakable rebound. Credit the city’s restructuring in a bankruptcy Snyder ordered. Credit private capital driving the resurgence  billions of dollars invested in the old bones of downtown and Midtown in new infrastructure in a vision for the city unspooling under a pragmatic mayor who understands business and politics.

And that’s precisely the balance Democrat Gretchen Whitmer or Republican Bill Schuette should emulate. They can either build on the bipartisan economic consensus crafted by business, by Duggan and Snyder - two comparatively nominal partisans in a hyper-partisan age. Or they can screw it up by alienating half the state and the business community.

They can lose the state’s smartest business people with higher taxes, more regulation, and politicized screeds favored by Jennifer Granholm. Or they can strike a pragmatic, mutually beneficial alliance with them like Snyder did.

At least one statewide CEO group, Business Leaders for Michigan, is calling for more of the same, please. It wants to put an end to what its CEO, Doug Rothwell, calls Michigan’s “consistent inconsistency.” He means state economic policy-making forged in partisan crucibles – not in concert with people who make investments and create jobs.

He means putting away the swinging policy pendulum going all-in on film incentives only to see the next governor eliminate them unilaterally. He means recognizing that growth, rising standards of living and an expanding tax base come from business, not government. He means that government should actually invest in schools and roads, instead of rationalizing why it’s OK and, quote, “responsible” to let things fall apart.

At its CEO Summit this week, Rothwell’s group suggested voters consider five questions before casting their votes Tuesday: Will they demonstrate a bias for financial action? Will they continue tight fiscal practices? Will they reduce long-term debt?

Will they raise user fees on roads to fix them sustainably? Will they focus on schools, worker training and economic development, what Huntington Bank’s Sandra Pierce calls “the things that matter”?

She’s absolutely right. Lost Decades are for losers.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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