President Barack Obama’s State of the Union wasn’t the only largely meaningless piece of political theater to preempt your regularly scheduled Tuesday evening broadcasts. So did Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address.
Snyder, fresh off a relatively easy re-election victory in November and backed by wide Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, spent much of his address urging lawmakers to “revolutionize” how it helps poor and disadvantaged Michiganders get ahead. More from the Free Press:
Snyder said he was fortunate to be born into a two-parent family in which he was able to take advantage of middle-class opportunities. But he said too many face barriers to that “river of opportunity,” due to poverty or family issues, sickness or disabilities, or a lack of access to transportation.
“Government and nonprofits are in the forefront of offering help, but we must fundamentally reshape the way in which we do that.,” Snyder said.
“The system is failing, folks,” Snyder said. “What we’ve done is we’ve sliced and diced people into programs We’ve moved away from treating them as real people.”
Michigan must move to a system focused on people, not programs; dealing with root causes, not symptoms; maximizing results, not bureaucracy; involving friends and neighbors in the community, not just the state; and measuring results. Central to his plan, he said, is merging the Departments of Community Health and Human Services to form one department aimed at streamlining services.
Snyder also called on the Legislature to continue a debate on enacting the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which would grant LGBTQ Michiganders employment and housing protection. While the governor did not take a stance on the legislation, he earned praise from Democrats for encouraging dialogue on the issue.
But new House Majority Leader Kevin Cotter, Mount Pleasant’s very own Republican representative? Not so much.
“That’s a discussion we had last session,” he said, according to the Free Press. “I’m not looking to bring that up.”
It’s not clear such an act would pass the conservative legislature, The Detroit News reports:
Political observers and activists within the LGBT community were skeptical that Snyder could convince a more conservative Legislature to pass the gay rights legislation.
“His best chance would have been to ensure that this was passed last legislative session if he wanted to see the Republicans take the lead and go down in history as making this happen,” said Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Equality Michigan. “If he can flip the script on this and still make sure that they have seized this opportunity to change their reputation on LGBT rights, this would be the time to do that.”
Gay rights advocates have said they will not settle for a bill that does not include specific protections for gender identity.
“No one in the (LGBT) community has said ‘OK forget it, let’s go for a lesser version,'” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the ACLU of Michigan.
Snyder urged voters to approve a one-percent increase in the state sales tax to 7 percent this year as a way to increase spending on road repair and construction by $1.2 billion over three years.
The News, again:
Last month, the Legislature placed the sales tax increase on the May 5 ballot as part of a bipartisan deal to boost road funding, generate $300 million more annually for public education and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, which Snyder reduced in his first year.
“Vote yes so we can have safer roads,” Snyder urged. “Vote yes so we can get rid of crumbling bridges. Vote yes to give Michigan stronger schools and local governments.”
Snyder’s push for a 17 percent hike in the sales tax rate did not sit well with Terry Gunia, 61, a retired corrections officer from Muskegon.
Gunia said he has already been hit in recent years by Snyder’s extension of the 4.25 percent individual income tax on his $20,000-a-year state pension and increases in hunting and fishing license fees.
“He’s taxing us to death,” Gunia said.
Getting things done
Snyder took a jab at Obama and the federal government during his address as a way to illustrate how efficient Michigan’s government is in his view:
“In a couple of hours, you get to hear another speech,” Snyder said. “And what I would say on that is I think it’s a great opportunity to watch both speeches. And not just watch the speeches, but watch the outcome and results. While we solve problems in Michigan, we have gridlock in Washington. And this is not a partisan comment, folks. Both sides have these issues.”
Was that Snyder hinting at a possible presidential run in 2016, or just another way for him to frame himself as the centrist technocrat he’s made himself out to be since 2010? Time will tell.
Looking ahead: Budget and higher education
The State of the State address serves as something of a prelude the upcoming budget season, which Snyder will kick off next month when he unveils his executive budget proposal that will attach dollar figures to various proposals.
That process will be complicated by a looming shortfall in the state budget, which is expected to end the current fiscal year with a $325 deficit if the state does not adjust spending in coming months.
Snyder made only passing reference to the budget crunch, which was largely caused by the redemption of refundable tax credits that he scrapped in 2012. “It’s going to require special work and extra effort, but we’re not going to be beaten by some legacy of the past,” he said.
If you’re a college student, keep a special eye on this budget battle. Snyder has previously promised to restore higher education funding to the levels they were when he took office, before he signed a 15-percent cut in state funding. This budget deficit could prove to make that promise difficult to keep, and might make further education cuts more politically feasible for the more conservative members of the Republican caucus.