Managing Decline vs. Investing for Growth

SEMCOG – the council of governments in metro Detroit – has just released its 2035 transportation plan. Paul Tait, its excellent Executive Director, notes that one of the common concerns he runs into is folks – including policy makers – who wonder why we are working on long range plans, when we have an immediate crisis to deal with.

Good question. And one that should be at the center of the debate over how to grow the Michigan economy. There are many who believe that we need to figure out how to cut back, period. We don’t have enough resources to provide all the public services we currently have. So we need to do with less: some combination of service cuts and lower compensation for public employees and retirees.

I describe that approach as managing decline. We have become this decade one of the poorest states in the country so we need to adjust to that new reality. Its an approach to public policy which is about aligning with the trends, rather than trying to reverse them.

But why do we want to accept being one of the poorest places in the country? Reversing the trends should be what we are all focused on. Our goal should be on recreating a high prosperity Michigan. And to get there will require investing in the assets that will define those places that will be the most prosperous in the future.

Quality transportation for both the movement of people and goods clearly is one of the assets that matters for future economic success.  We should be debating what the characteristics of that system should be. At Michigan Future we believe that it should be one that is far less auto dependent.

But what we should not be arguing about is whether investing in transportation matters. It does. There is no way we will recreate a prosperous Michigan if we skip investing in the community assets that matter.

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