By ELIZABETH DANEFF
Capital News Service
LANSING — Traverse City area legislators reflected positively on Gov. John Engler’s final State of the State Address, even as lawmakers around the state gave mixed reviews to the hour-long speech.
“It was a great speech because the governor focused on Michigan’s future instead of the economic woes we’re seeing as a result of Sept. 11,” said Sen. George McManus, R-Traverse City.
As he prepared to conclude more than 30 years in state government, Engler delivered his 12th State of the State Address last Wednesday with determination and optimism for Michigan’s future.
“We saw a side of Engler that you don’t see very often,” McManus said. “I was wondering, going in, what we were going to get from the governor. I think he pleasantly surprised everyone with his optimism and positive outlook for Michigan’s future.”
Rep. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, said the governor delivered a positive outlook for Michigan. “I’m very excited overall for what the governor has laid out for the long-tern economic and educational climate in the state of Michigan,” Allen said. “Broadband technology is going to be great for northern Michigan.”
Engler called for continued support for Michigan’s automobile industry, praising zero percent financing as one of the most important stimulus packages for families in America.
“I started to watch Engler on television, because it was his last address and I was interested in how he would assess our state,” said Mary Easthope, chair of the Leelanau County Democrats. “The state of our budget is very questionable right now.” Easthope said she was interrupted by the telephone and was unable to watch the last half of the address.
Engler emphasized the importance of fuel cell technology to Michigan’s automobile industry. “The new vehicles will require a new generation of engineers to design them, a new generation of plants to assemble them, and a new generation of workers to build them,” Engler said. “Let’s make sure future generations are driving vehicles that say, ÔMade in Michigan.'”
In his speech, Engler proposed the MI-Family health plan, funded in part by federal money, to help an additional 200,000 low-income families in Michigan receive health care coverage.
“When Washington gives states the flexibility to design programs that meet our needs, we stretch the dollars and help more people,” Engler said.
Rep. John Hansen, D-Dexter, who sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and Department of Education, said Engler danced around some of Michigan’s biggest challenges. “He didn’t deal with the basic reality of what the state is today,” said Hansen.
“I think we need to help as many people as we can, but why hasn’t the governor tried to insure the 150,000 children who are still eligible for insurance under MI-Child, but have not been included? We need to deal with our debt, our mental health, environment and educational problems first.”
No new education initiatives were introduced in the address, although Engler noted that education remains his No. 1 priority. He called for legislation to make schools accountable. In a written portion of the speech that went unannounced, Engler said the State Board of Education deserves an “F” grade for accountability.
“I think Engler didn’t say much about the state of education in Michigan because he knows he has a bad record,” said Easthope. “Instead, he attacked Michigan’s board of education. His support of public schools is terrible.”
Sharon Gire , vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education, said she was disappointed in Engler’s speech, especially that he did not spend much time discussing education. Gire is a Democrat from Clinton Township.
“We are losing special programs like reading readiness and programs for at-risk children that we know will make a difference in Michigan’s future,” Gire said. “Reading in particular, we can’t turn our backs on it.”
Engler urged state lawmakers to help expand high-speed Internet access to all of Michigan, saying Michigan citizens would be able to better communicate with the world. He estimated an additional 500,000 jobs could become available throughout the state within the next decade as a result of expanded broadband services.
In a statement that emphasized Michigan’s need for technology, Engler said, “The ability to move data, voice and video at high speed along the information highway is not only essential to business and education today; it will lead to growth and investment tomorrow.
“I want those jobs, and I want those jobs in Michigan.”
Senate Minority Leader John Cherry, D-Clio, said that although Engler didn’t mention the state’s budget challenge, he did present good challenges for Michigan’s economic development.
McManus said Engler portrayed Michigan as a glass half full instead of half empty. “We need to look toward the future to create jobs and income to keep our state going strong,” McManus said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ELIZABETH DANEFF