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Commissions on infrastructure, education, economy proposed

January 26, 2016

Courtesy of MIRS News Service

When he wasn’t talking about Flint or Detroit Public Schools in his State of the State address tonight, Gov. Rick SNYDER was creating commissions. 

The Governor announced he would form three commissions this year: One on education, another on infrastructure, and a third one on the economy. 

And the term “21st Century” was the common title shared by all three commissions, as Snyder attempted to get the ball rolling on the future in these areas. 

Snyder’s commission on a 21st Century infrastructure system was his pivot from his statements addressing Flint (See related story). 

As he’s tried to get at in previous appearances, the Flint water crisis has also unearthed a larger statewide issue involving an aging infrastructure system beyond roads and bridges, with Snyder calling it a “hidden problem.” 

Snyder said the commission’s priorities would be to look at forming recommendations regarding water and sewer infrastructure, energy and electrical girds, broadband modernization and upgrading the Soo Locks. 

The Governor spent time on the Soo Locks issue, noting that if the most-used lock were to shutter, it could “devastate” the state’s economy. 

“To be blunt, it could devastate the national economy,” he said. “Think about it. We could run out of steel.” 

Snyder said he expected the infrastructure commission to present its recommendations in September. 

The Governor said one of his immediate actions would be to sign an executive order directed at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to ensure that MDOT huddles with locals and utilities on upgrading water infrastructure when roads are being dug up and replaced. 

On the 21st education commission, Snyder said this would look at improving education governance, funding and career and college readiness in Michigan schools. 

“We have a 19th century education system in the 21st century. It’s time to ask ourselves why,” Snyder said. 

The Governor noted some upcoming studies on school funding and career technical education that are due out this year. He also gave credit to State Superintendent Brian WHISTON and his work to ready a plan on making Michigan a top 10-education state in 10 years. 

Snyder’s commission looks to incorporate these various studies and also look at what obstacles are holding the state back, Whiston said in an interview after speech. 

Snyder set November as the due date for a report back from that commission. Education Trust-Midwest expressed support with moving forward on such a commission. 

“Yes, we have serious challenges in Michigan right now,” said Amber ARELLANO, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest, in a statement. “But we can’t turn away from Michigan’s statewide public education crisis to focus only on the most urgent issues of the moment. Leading states have good roads, clean water — and strong schools. We can, too. And we must for our state’s future. 

“The time to invest in our students’ futures is now. We look forward to working with Governor Snyder and the 21st Century Education Commission to overcome the many challenges facing students in communities across Michigan, and together realize a brighter and stronger future.” 

Finally, Snyder said he wanted a commission for looking at a 21st Century economy. The Governor said this commission’s mission would be intertwined with the commissions on education and infrastructure. 

Snyder said the state must develop an environment that supports economic development and encourages businesses to grow. 

“Opportunity needs to be part of our DNA in this state,” Snyder said. He wants the economy commission to be completed with its work by December. 

Related to the discussion on the economy, Snyder commended the auto industry’s growth in the state, but warned that if the state spent too much time admiring the past, it could lose the industry. 

Snyder made a push for the state to embrace connected and autonomous vehicles, and he announced support for the creation of an American Center for Mobility at the former Willow Run plant, which drew praise from a few sources, including U.S. Rep. Debbie DINGELL (D-Dearborn) and MICHauto, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

“Michigan is leading the way in the rapid development of the connected and autonomous vehicle and this will only help that effort. Willow Run would serve as a world-class resource for companies that are here, but also as a magnet to attract tech and automotive companies. This better positions Michigan to earn its share of the billions of dollars of investment expected to result from the pursuit of the driverless vehicle,” said Glenn STEVENS, vice president of MICHauto, in a statement. 

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