The February 2011 edition of the Council of State Governments’ monthly magazine carried a data map of the United States showing in blazing orange and red the states with the highest poverty rates. Michigan is the only northern state in this unfortunate group whose poverty levels exceed 16 percent. The rest are exclusively in the South. The chart also shows that the five states with the lowest median per-capita income are all in the South. Some in Michigan are pushing for deep cuts to education and aid to communities for things like public safety so that we can afford reductions to taxes on corporations. They often highlight states like Tennessee and South Carolina as models of low spending and taxation, which they equate with having a “good climate for business.”

What they don’t point out is that these states and all of the other high poverty/low income states of the South rank at or near the bottom in the percentage of their population with a college degree. This turns out to be the most important factor that distinguishes prosperous states. Of the top ten states in per-capita income, all are in the top 10 in their percentage of college graduates, except Alaska and Hawaii which are outliers for a number of reasons.

Gov. Snyder has stated his goal of making Michigan a top-10 state in prosperity. We all share this goal. Next week when the Governor unveils his proposals for balancing Michigan’s budget and changing our tax code, I will be looking carefully at these proposals to make sure that they not only put our fiscal house in order but also put Michigan in a position to climb to the top 10 by investing in education and strong communities so that we can educate and retain the college graduates who are so crucial to our economy.