By David Eggert, Associated Press
MACKINAC ISLAND (AP) – Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday said people should be mindful of Michigan’s continued economic resurgence even as the state grapples with lead in Flint’s drinking water and enormous debt in Detroit’s public school district.
The Republican governor, while acknowledging his administration’s “challenges,” said he is trying to “set the tone that we need to be more positive and proactive.” He said the state’s 4.8 percent unemployment rate has stayed flat despite the addition of 104,000 people seeking work, and its per-capita personal income growth was fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year.
“We’re putting solutions in place in Flint. We’re working hard on a solution for Detroit Public Schools and education in Detroit,” Snyder told The Associated Press in an interview at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual three-day policy conference on Mackinac Island.
Snyder has faced withering criticism before Congress and calls for his resignation over failures that created and prolonged the months-long emergency in Flint, an impoverished, majority-black city of nearly 100,000 whose residents are drinking filtered or bottled water until the municipal supply is declared safe. He has apologized but is clearly irked with the media scrutiny.
In his opening remarks to a crowd at the meeting, he said some of his interviews with reporters were “like talking to Eeyore ” — the pessimistic donkey in “Winnie-the-Pooh” stories.
“The reports of my demise are greatly overblown,” Snyder said.
The Legislature as soon as next week is expected to approve $165 million more to respond to the Flint disaster, on top of about $70 million already allocated. Talks continued Wednesday on a state bailout of Detroit Public Schools, which has been managed by the state for seven consecutive years but faces $467 million in operating debt.
Snyder said the differences over the restructuring legislation are largely over a proposed commission that would regulate the opening and closing of schools — including charters. The parties involved agree they need to spend money to retire the debt over time.
“Those are just gigantic things that in many years would be the whole focus of a budget discussion,” he said of the Flint aid and paying off the debt.
On Tuesday, scientists said Flint’s water has improved significantly and is suitable for personal cleanliness uses — a bid to calm fears raised by actor Mark Ruffalo and others who have questioned the safety of the supply that flows into the city’s bathtubs and showers.
Snyder said “giving people bad information is not helpful to the healing process.” He credited Virginia Tech engineering professor Marc Edwards for “speaking up.”
Besides the Detroit overhaul and the state budget, Snyder is hoping to see progress on energy and criminal justice legislation before the Legislature adjourns for the summer in mid-June, though he said it is doubtful either could reach his desk in coming weeks.
Alternative energy suppliers, environmental groups and conservative organizations are among opponents of bills on the Senate floor that would update 2008 energy laws.
“It’s a hard issue because there’s two or three dimensions,” Snyder said. “This one has had a lot of strong feelings for a long time.”
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