Governor Rick Snyder made his pitch for higher taxes and fees to pay for roads in his third State of the State address.
He says Michigan needs at least a billion additional dollars in the coming year to pay for badly needed repairs to the state’s ailing infrastructure. He may also need a plan to repair his strained relationships with Democrats to get what he wants.
The demonstrators didn’t come close to the numbers who packed the lawn and halls of the Capitol in December as the Legislature debated and passed a right-to-work law. But there was a heightened level of security as a couple hundred or so demonstrators showed up to let Governor Rick Snyder and Republicans in Lansing know all is not forgotten or forgiven.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have any impact, but, by god, we have to at least let make him know,” said Mike Emerson, a retired G-M welder from Flint. People here were unhappy about right-to-work, budget cuts, schools, and environmental issues like gas drilling.
“And that’s what we’re here for, to let him know we’re displeased. It’s not going to be easy for him in 2014, believe me,” Emerson added.
At the halfway point in his term, Governor Snyder said he’s looking ahead and hopes to set aside the bitterness of the past two years.
“I appreciate that people had different perspectives on issues and what I’m saying is, I’m hoping we can find common ground where we can work together and I hope all of you join me in doing the same thing,” that line by Governor Snyder in his State of the State speech brought Republicans to their feet. Democrats stayed in their seats. A few politely clapped.
Snyder’s 2013 agenda is largely items leftover from 2012. An overhaul of Blue Cross-Blue Shield, changing Michigan’s no-fault insurance law which allows for unlimited medical benefits, and perhaps the toughest sell: fixing Michigan’s roads.
“It’s time to do something folks. We need to invest more in our roads,” Snyder urged from the podium, “as well as bridges, rail, harbors, and other transportation projects.”
The governor suggested changing the gas tax to one that charges a percentage of sales instead of a certain number of cents per gallon. Also higher vehicle registration fees. The idea is to come up with a new, stable source of revenue as people drive fewer miles in more-fuel-efficient vehicles. But Snyder says it’s an economic imperative – Michigan’s roads are getting worse – and it’s one that will save lives.
“If we do this, we’ve done some work to say that we would save nearly a hundred lives a year. A hundred lives each year. There’s no price you can put on that,” Snyder said.
Higher fuel taxes, higher fees – Republicans wouldn’t support that in the Legislature’s last session. The new House Democratic leader, Tim Greimel, says the governor shouldn’t necessarily look to Democrats to make up the difference.
“Forgive us if we’re a little leery of the governor’s rhetoric today when his actions have been very different,” says Greimel, “It’s the equivalent of beating somebody up and then turning around the next day and acting like you want to be best buddies with them.”
Governor Snyder also called for better workforce training, more early childhood education, helping veterans, improving mental health services, and both protecting the Great Lakes and using them for their economic benefits. The governor also identified two industries– developing driverless cars, and insurance and financial services – as promising sectors.
“We’re here to serve 10 million people that are counting on us, so let’s get the job done,” says Snyder.
Earlier in the day, the governor got the news that Michigan’s unemployment rate was unchanged in December and remains at eight-point-nine percent. That’s an improvement from the 10 percent unemployment rate when he took office in 2011 – but still well above the national rate, and a slower pace of recovery than a lot of people would like.