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Snyder looks ahead to 2015 but can’t leave behind unfinished business

Jan 21, 2015

Governor Rick Snyder took a swipe at Washington tonight (Tue.) in his State of the State speech -- and said Lansing could serve as an example to the federal government on how to solve problems. But the governor had to spend a portion of his own speech dwelling on some things he wanted to fix last year that didn’t get done.

The newly reelected governor had to share the political spotlight as President Obama delivered the State of the Union speech the same evening. But Governor Snyder seized the moment. 

Credit State of Michigan

“While we solve problems in Michigan, we have gridlock in Washington,” he said. “…Gridlock is not a good answer for any of us, and if you look at the positioning, they’re already figuring out how they can take shots at one another. We don’t do that here. Does it make a difference? It absolutely does. We use ‘relentless positive action.’”

The governor turned to his signature phrase to make that point. However, the governor had to spend some time on a couple of issues from 2014 that lingered into the new year unresolved.

One of them, certainlty, is road funding. Years of exhorting lawmakers to come up with $1.2 billion or more for roads resulted late last year in a question that will go on the May ballot to raise the sales tax. If it fails, it’s back to square one.

With a statewide audience watching, the governor did not pass up the opportunity to market the do-or-die plan, repeating the phrase “vote yes” no fewer than seven times.

“What I need you to do is vote yes,” he said. “Vote yes so we can have safer roads. Vote yes so we get rid of those crumbling bridges.”

But early polling suggests voters are still skeptical and the governor has a sales job ahead of him.

Another unresolved question -- an update to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law. That stalled last year over the question of whether transgender people should be covered. The governor said the Legislature this year should resolve the impasse.

“Let’s keep up that dialogue and show that we can deal with issues of discrimination       in our state.”

There was a plenty of applause, but, in this instance, the cheers for the Republican governor came from the Democratic side of the aisle, and lawmakers like state Representative John Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), an openly gay freshman. He says updating the civil rights law fits with the governor’s focus on improving the economy.

“Business leaders in Michigan, the governor, recognized the need for talent retention and this is about, laying, I think, a broader conversation in the state of Michigan,” he said.

Republicans like the new state House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) were not so impressed. He says the question was been debated and he has no interest in bringing it up again.

“I’m not aware of anything that’s changed since that time, so I’m of the view that we’ve had the conversation.”

But Cotter says he’s on board with a lot of the Snyder agenda for 2015 -- a closer relationship between high school and higher education, improved workforce training, and streamlining services. At the top of that list, the governor’s plan for a big state agency merger combining the Department of Human Services and Department of Community Health. Snyder says the new department – which would be the state’s largest -- will be more efficient, save taxpayers money, and deliver better services to people who need them – with the goal of more people becoming independent of government assistance.

The governor called his speech “The River of Opportunity.”

“How do we create opportunities for people who are not in the mainstream of this river of opportunity is the question.”

How that question is answered could be the legacy of Snyder’s second term.