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Citizens can be inspired to do more. But Gov. Snyder won't inspire them tonight.

Jan 17, 2017

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his seventh State of the State address tonight. My guess is that not many people will watch or listen; with this speech, they hardly ever do.

Abraham Lincoln famously said at Gettysburg that “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here.”

Lincoln was as wrong as he could be about his own words.

But his words are likely to apply to our governor’s speech tonight.

Snyder is a lame duck whose political career is almost certainly finished, thanks to Flint. Even before that, he wasn’t very successful getting his own party to go along with his agenda, especially when it came to what was his main infrastructure priority, Michigan’s disintegrating roads.

... it is clear to everyone that the state faces an infrastructure crisis of historic proportions, from the ancient lead pipes in Flint to the giant sinkhole in Fraser.

After years of humiliating failure, he was finally able -- two years ago -- to get the lawmakers to pass a totally inadequate package that just raised gas taxes, but has yet to fix one yard of blighted road and which will blow a $600 million annual hole in the general fund.

Now it is clear to everyone that the state faces an infrastructure crisis of historic proportions, from the ancient lead pipes in Flint to the giant sinkhole in Fraser.

It also seems clear that these two incidents are canaries screeching for us to examine the collapsing underpinnings of our civilization.

We have many miles of worn-out pipes, roads and bridges and inadequate sewers and water systems. We pay far more attention to our DVRs than our plumbing -- but guess which one we really couldn’t live without.

The governor gets this, or most of it.

We’re told he plans to talk about infrastructure tonight -- and get ready for this. Here’s the dramatic thing we’re told he will say: Snyder will call for “an integrated asset management system to combine information on infrastructure and coordinate planning among cities, utilities, and state government.”

Moves you, doesn’t it?

Can you imagine those words inspiring young people to selflessly devote themselves to a life of public service? Of course not!

What the governor called for was sensible, and utterly boring. Essentially he said, in Snyderspeak, that we need a database.

Yes, and I need a new box of paper clips.

He’s right, but he’s wrong. That’s not what we need. We need something to inspire people to fix our infrastructure before we all drown in or are poisoned by our own you-know-what.

... the public might be inspired. And that is how you start to make things happen.

What I’d like to see the governor propose is a Michigan Infrastructure Corps, sort of along the lines of Americorps. We’d sign up eighteen and nineteen year olds to work for two years rebuilding Michigan, something like the old Civilian Conservation Corps on a grander scale. We’d pay them a nominal salary and give them higher education assistance afterwards.

This would cost us billions – and save us trillions.

Now, if he did propose such a thing, I doubt whether the present motley crew of unimaginative, lobbyist-controlled legislative ideologues would go along, at least not this year. But the public might be inspired. And that is how you start to make things happen.

The nation is finally waking up to the need for infrastructure reform. Wouldn’t it be great if our governor found the guts to propose something that wouldn’t put them back to sleep?

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.