New governor can outline state’s big picture, needs to do it quickly

Guest Editorial
He has been governor for only two weeks, but Rick Snyder already is leaving no doubt as to his style: He expects action, and he is in no mood to wait.

Snyder will deliver his first State of the State address Jan. 19. That’s the earliest date for that important speech in more than a decade.

He is challenging state lawmakers to pass a two-year budget by July 1. That would be next to miraculous, given how the Legislature typically stretches out that process to a deadline four months later — and sometimes beyond.

Snyder is smart to hit the gas pedal. Haste is in order, given how slowly progress came to Lansing in the last eight years.

Just as critical is the substance of what Snyder aims to deliver. The new governor and lawmakers are staring at a roughly $1.8 billion budget shortfall for next year. That is not a gap, but a canyon. The temptation — taken by past elected officials — would be to paper over the problem with one-time gimmicks. It also would be the wrong approach.

While Snyder and Co. might cobble together money, that would do nothing for Michigan government’s fundamental problem: a lack of public confidence.

Michigan, as any observer should know, pays too much for the services it provides, skimps on public investments in roads and infrastructure, and puts up too many regulatory barriers to business investment. As a result, Michigan has been losing jobs to neighbors like Indiana.

Snyder, with his business background, knows this well. He has been talking about these issues for the last 12 months. Now, he has the opportunity to do something about them.

The State of the State address in 10 days needs to spark the debate that transforms state government — and fast. It won’t be enough for Snyder and the many new lawmakers around him to focus just on balancing the budget.

They will have to strive for results that fold in reforms to Michigan’s tax code, wages and benefits for state employees, and the breadth of what state government offers.

The state, even more than the rest of the country, arguably, is on the cusp of recovery. What could hold that back is if employers are uncertain of what they see from Lansing. If they believe they may run into a buzzsaw of taxes, or if the regulatory picture isn’t improving, those that can will create jobs elsewhere. Those that are here today still may leave.

The timing is ideal for Snyder and the Legislature, fresh from a decisive election, to act decisively. Within the first six months, they have a chance to set Michigan on a path to prosperity. Let’s see if they will.