By KYLE WHITNEY
Journal Staff Writer
MJ: Despite environmental concerns, some of which have been voiced directly to your office, Kennecott's Eagle Mine project is moving forward. How do you feel, specifically, about that project?
Snyder: Mining in general is an opportunity for the (Upper Peninsula) to do well and it needs to be done in an environmentally conscious fashion. I'm proud to say Michigan put in the toughest regulations in the country on mining. Given that we created that environment and we're going to follow through and make sure those regulations are complied with, people should be allowed to mine.
It's a great way to create more and better jobs. Its part of the heritage of the culture up here. Let's just be the best at it in the country and the world.
MJ: In a case like this, how do you balance environmental concerns and economic progress? What kinds of advice do you give the people you put in place?
Snyder: Understand, we want a sustainable world. I want a world that's good for us, for our kids and for generations to come. At the same time, we need to exist in that world, and one of the things that ties it together is job creation.
Too often, people treat economic development and the environmental world as two separate silos. That's a flawed model. The economy and the environment are tied together in a symbiotic relationship. What's one of the key things if you want to create jobs? It's having great quality of life. It's having great recreational opportunities. It's being able to go out in the woods and enjoy them. It's important to have a strong environment to go with a strong economy. At the same time, if you want to do preservation, if you want to do programs to help the environment in a positive, constructive way, you need dollar resources to do that. How do you get those dollar resources? It's by having a thriving economy that is generating either tax resources or private giving.
MJ: How do you answer the criticism that the (Emergency Financial Manager) law places too much power in the hands of unelected officials?
Snyder: First of all, there has been an emergency manager law in Michigan going back to the (former Gov. James) Blanchard era ... (The previous law) was actually set up in not a good way in the sense that until the crisis truly happened, there was very little the state could do to help a community.
We put in an early warning system ... now we can work with communities so that they are still in charge, but we can partner with them, we can help them do reviews, we can help them do consent agreements. There are many positive things we can do, because my goal is to ever avoid having a financial manager show up. The best answer is never to have to need it. So now we can work with communities to get them to avoid the situation to begin with, where we couldn't do that before. That's a huge improvement.
Where there was an emergency manager situation, they tended to be there a very long time, because they weren't able to fully do the things they needed to do, to get in, do their job, get out and get the local community back in charge. The second piece of the legislation actually enhanced their abilities to do them, with a number of safeguards, with a number of things that needed approvals from various levels and a process to do them in. But it gave them more power to deal with the situation so they could be there for a shorter period of time, be more effective, and get that community of people back in charge for their community. In many respects, I view this as a positive enhancement to actually enhance the ability of local governments to be more successful.
MJ: You talk often of "shared sacrifice" and have conveyed the message to those in public education that if they can struggle through short-term funding cuts, things will get better. Now, what is your plan for the immediate future of public education funding?
Snyder: One of the things we did that was new is we did a two-year budget process. One was the legal year that was approved by the legislature, but we showed a second year. In that, we showed that if we made these cuts this year in these difficult circumstances, that we wouldn't have to make additional cuts, given the economic outlook we were addressing.
In many respects, hopefully, we have reached that bottom point and at some point in the future we are going to be able to invest back.
We need to do it in a thoughtful way, though. It's just not about spending money. It's about actually making sure we have performance metrics, good transparency and we're achieving real results.
I want to make sure we get back and focus on the kids. The priority of our broken educational system needs to move from spending money to making sure our kids get a great education.
MJ: AARP and some other groups are arguing that the new tax on pensions is unconstitutional. Oral arguments in the Michigan Supreme Court are slated for next month. What is the current status of that debate and where do you expect it to go from here?
Snyder: I believe it's constitutional. In fact, we made a request to the Supreme Court to expedite hearing of the legal issues. They accepted that and I appreciate that because I believe we have a very strong case, that the constitution supports our arguments and it's the right thing to do for the long-term interest of all our citizens.
We had created a tax system, with the old system, that was going to, gradually, over time put more and more of an undue burden on our young people, in relative relationship. When I campaigned around Michigan I heard it over and over again. After jobs, the next most important issue was: How do we keep our kids in the state? You don't do that by creating a system that unduly taxes your young people ... This is about fairness and this is about looking out for our kids for the long term.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.