Granholm outlines successes, regrets in exit interview

Program: WVPE Features

Reporter: Rick Pluta, MPRN

Airdate: 12/24/2010

At noon on New Year's Day, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm will hand over her job to Governor-elect Rick Snyder.

Governor Granholm says she knows people remember the standoffs with the Legislature, and missed budget deadlines during her administration. But she says the reality is more nuanced. The governor says the Legislature agreed with her on 80 percent of the things she called for although she rarely got everything she wanted in any given deal.


Granholm says her successes include tax breaks to lure businesses and investment to the state, clean energy targets, a tougher high school curriculum, a massive worker retraining effort, and the Pure Michigan ad campaign.


 "So I feel very proud of what were able to do despite the opposition, but to achieve many of those things, sometimes you have to compromise."


Granholm came into office focused on fixing cities, making early childhood education universally available, and getting more people to graduate from college.


She says she never lost sight of those goals, but they all eventually took a back seat to grappling with Michigan's economic meltdown. The state was two years into a recession and already down 200 thousand jobs when she took office. About the time a recovery was expected, manufacturing especially automotive manufacturing imploded.


"I know I'll be remembered for being governor during the most-challenging economic era of Michigan's history since the Great Depression."


"Jennifer Granholm was undoubtedly dealt a really lousy hand."  Michigan State University economics professor Charles Ballard has written two books on the state's economic history and its future.


"We'll have debate about how well she played that hand, but she didn't get any aces in the hand that she was dealt."


Granholm's early, stratospheric approval ratings suffered along with the economy. Michigan had the unfortunate distinction through most of the Granholm years as the state with the nation's highest unemployment rate.


"The question will be what did I do during that challenging period to make syre that when we emerged from it we were in a stronger position so that's why I believe I will be remembered for laying a foundation for a new Michigan economy."


Granholm focused on a few high-growth industries advanced batteries, renewable energy, and films, to name a few and on workforce training.


The governor says high on her list of regrets is never getting the Legislature to restore the Michigan Promise scholarship to every high school graduate who goes onto college or advanced job training.


The governor say she's also unhappy that she never succeeded in restructuring taxes especially has plan to expand Michigan's sales tax to services. She also regrets not making more headway in eliminating tax breaks that have outlived their usefulness and no longer create jobs.


"Every loophole break has its lobbyist and that's why I wasn't successful in closing the loopholes that just don't make sense anymore."


In fact, Michigan gives away billions of dollars in tax breaks -- a lot more than it actually collects in revenue. 


Gary Olsen of the state Senate Fiscal Agency says that's money that needs to be made up somewhere either in higher taxes for everyone else, or budget cuts that are difficult to sell to the Legislature. He says that problem was made worse when the Legislature and the governor adopted new tax breaks without retiring old ones.


"Well, it's not free money and to the extent that you pass a film subsidy as an example, which is reducing general fund revenues net about 100 million dollars. That 100 million dollars has to come from somewhere. We've got have a balanced budget."


Governor Granholm says she thinks every tax credit should be evaluated and there should be a mechanism for retiring ones that are no longer needed.


The governor says she would also have liked to see the Legislature adopt sentencing reforms that would have saved taxpayers a lot of money in corrections costs.


Granholm has only nice things to say about Republican Governor-elect Rick Snyder, and praises his political independence.


"Governor-elect Snyder was not elected having accepted a whole lot of PAC contributions or anything like that he's a self-funded guy, he may have a little more freedom -- but unfortunately the folks in the Legislature will not have that freedom."


Granholm says Snyder is lucky -- where she was not to be taking office as the economy appears to be turning around. She says he's also fortunate to have a Republican-controlled Legislature where she always had to preside over a divided government. 


Granholm says she knows what her next job will be, but won't say until January. She also says she is looking forward to being on a warm beach with a cold margarita right about the same time the Legislature returns to Lansing.

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