Snyder delivers modest State of the State address that still holds promise

Guest Editorial
Gov. Rick Snyder started his second State of the State address Wednesday night riding high, with news that state unemployment is at its lowest level in more than three years. By the end of it, the governor appeared diminished. Critics quickly dismissed it as thin gruel, lacking in (depending on one’s viewpoint) specifics, ambition or compassion.

Any shortcomings in the governor’s speech, however, reflect deeper issues that might curtail his agenda for the next year. Democrats — angered by Republicans’ legislative agenda and persistence last year — simply are not going to cooperate on substantive matters. Members of Snyder’s party, meanwhile, now have their own pet causes to advance in an election year. A “right-to-work” law, anyone?

Snyder, the man in the middle, deserves praise for Wednesday’s speech not because it set the bar low, but because he focused on what will serve state residents best. If he accomplishes the goals he laid out in 2012, he’ll be remembered for getting a heck of a lot done.

The governor turned the speech into a continuation of work that began last year. The state’s business tax code has been turned on its head; now, Snyder is focusing on regulatory reform. He picked an obscure but telling example: the existence of 28 state requirements for outhouses, “including a requirement that the seat not be left up.”

Snyder focused on Michigan’s road system, emphasizing the need to somehow generate $1.4 billion for needed repairs. Roads are a quality-of-life issue for residents, and they factor into business recruitment.

And he put his weight behind common-sense ideas: addressing Michigan’s childhood-obesity epidemic; improving public safety in cities; and new laws that would require more campaign-finance disclosure and slow the flow on state employees who leave for private companies that pursue government contracts.

One knock on this agenda is that the details still are hazy. Snyder does not submit his budget until Feb. 9, and he will deliver his policy speech on public safety in March. While Republican lawmakers offered support for the governor, they conceded they were not sure what specific issues will become priorities.

To the governor’s credit, one issue he intends to promote is a new bridge from Detroit to Ontario. Snyder pushed this bridge last year, but saw it die in a Senate committee. Maybe he will have better luck politically with the spectacle of Ambassador Bridge mogul Matty Moroun going to jail, or maybe his arguments will simply win out, but the construction of a second cross-border bridge would be a monumental achievement.

Snyder is by no means damaged goods, not with an improving economy and a year of great accomplishment, but the next few months could prove frustrating politically. He was right to focus Wednesday on ideas that ought to have solid support and continue the drumbeat of government reform.

As the governor put it, “It’s not about big government or small government. It’s about good government. Government doing the right things for the right reasons.”