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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2011

Michigan Gov. Snyder, Detroit Mayor Bing build rapport while tackling mutual budget problems

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Democratic Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, heirs to an often tattered political fence, are becoming kindred spirits as they build a relationship aimed at fostering mutual success and turning around the dismal economic fortunes of Michigan and its single largest city.

Both men answer to constituencies increasingly concerned about employment, declining property values and budget cuts. And each inherited a financial train wreck: Michigan is staring at an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall in the upcoming budget year, while Detroit's faces a $150 million deficit, down from $330 million.

Maybe, misery loves company. Snyder, finishing up his second month as governor, and Bing, beginning the second year of his four-year term as Detroit mayor, meet or speak at least once each week. They've created a public bond rarely seen in a state often embroiled in partisan politics.

Bing served as master of ceremonies at Snyder's Jan. 1 inauguration. Snyder had a balcony seat this week at the mayor's State of the City address. The two sat together Wednesday night in Snyder's front-row Crisler Arena seats in Ann Arbor watching the University of Michigan lose at the buzzer to Wisconsin.

"He has his vision. I understand it," Bing said of Snyder. "I have my vision for the city. He understands it. We want to be very strategic."

But to what end?

"I don't think either one of us are driven by political motive," Bing said. "We both want to do what's best for our constituents. I don't see him wavering on that, nor am I."

New alliances aside, differences of opinion remain.

Snyder's proposed state budget includes cuts of $100 million in state revenue sharing to local governments. It's not clear how much Detroit will lose, but the city depends on those dollars to help pay its many bills.

Snyder's budget also calls for the elimination of the state's three-year-old movie incentive program, capping film credits at $25 million. The program is considered to be one of the most generous in the nation and has turned Detroit into a destination for film and documentary crews.

"To a degree, we have a different perspective," Snyder said. "My responsibility is to look at the issues for all or our communities."

Like Bing, Snyder faces tough fiscal decisions.

"The problem is bigger than traditional partisanship," University of Detroit Mercy business professor Michael Whitty said. "Can they be viewed as dramatic men for this time with real solutions, or just holding their thumbs in the dike?"

It's possible the frequent meetings and phone calls between Snyder and Bing include a bit of negotiating, and because of their backgrounds both speak the same language, Whitty added.

"They are probably cut from the same cloth as business folks with a business culture," Whitty said. "I would rather have a good partner for Detroit in Lansing, than a gap in communication."

Snyder's belief that Michigan and Detroit's fate remain intertwined and neither can be great without the other achieving success is partly is behind the governor's interest in the city that has lost more than half its population since peaking at nearly 2 million in the 1950s, said Republican L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County's executive.

"He's committed to helping Detroit to the extent that he can," Patterson said. "I don't think he's going to write a blank check, but he'll support Bing with every means he has available.

"Bing is the right guy at the right time to turn Detroit around. Now, he has the muscle coming from the state."

Bing, 67, a Detroit Pistons great followed a Hall of Fame basketball career with even more success as a business leader. He opened Bing Steel in Detroit in 1980, which later grew into a series of small manufacturing operations under the Bing Group.

Snyder, 52, served as president and chief operating officer for computer maker Gateway during much of the 1990s. At the time he decided to run for governor, Snyder was chair and chief executive of Ardesta, an Ann Arbor-based investment firm.

Bing won a 2009 special runoff election to complete the second term of disgraced ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who resigned a year earlier as part of a plea deal to criminal charges. Bing was elected to a full term in November 2009.

Snyder defeated Democratic Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in last November's gubernatorial election.

"Snyder views himself as a good steward of the state," Whitty said. "He needs everybody trying to reach consensus and be flexible teammates."

But Snyder's relationship with some Detroit Democrats already appears strained.

Many are opposed to his budget proposals for revenue sharing cuts and elimination of tax exemptions for low-income workers and pensions.

Detroit Democrat and state Rep. Maureen Stapleton said Snyder "revealed his true stripes" with the budget proposal that she characterized as a tax increase on middle and working class residents.



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