Snyder to pitch sales tax increase
Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder will appeal to voters Tuesday night to approve a sales tax increase in May to boost road and school funding during his fifth State of the State address.
The Republican governor's speech before a joint session of the Michigan House and Senate comes as his administration is trying to chart a second-term agenda while wrestling with a newly discovered budget deficit.
But one of Snyder's highest priorities from the past two years — generating more state funding for road and bridge repairs — is expected to consume part of his schedule for the next three and a half months leading up to the May 5 vote.
Snyder is dedicating part of his annual speech to lawmakers toward selling the need for the sales tax increase, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.
"That will be a detailed focus," Wurfel told The Detroit News. "To make sure that this actually gets wrapped up and done."
In his 2013 address, Snyder urged lawmakers to find a way to raise at least $1 billion more annually for roads. In December, after nearly two years of debate, the Legislature passed a legislative package that does so, if voters approve increasing the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent.
The deal over three years to spend $1.2 billion more annually on road repairs required Republican leaders to make many compromises with Democrats, including an increase in the state's Earned Income Tax Credit program, more than $300 million more for public schools and $70 million more for local governments through the state revenue-sharing program.
Snyder's speech begins at 7 p.m. and will be carried by most public television stations and broadcast live at detroitnews.com.
The governor's address is expected to be shorter than past years because he ruptured the tendon in his right leg after jogging on vacation in Florida earlier this month. Snyder canceled a trip and speaking engagement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this week after doctors advised him against traveling.
Instead of being ceremoniously ushered down the center aisle of the House chamber, Snyder will enter through a back hallway so he can use an elevator and limit his walking on crutches, Wurfel said.
Snyder will use a stool to lean on during the speech to keep weight off his right leg, which is in a cast, Wurfel said.
A shadow has been cast over the speech because of a $325 million deficit that state budget officials set on Friday. Snyder administration officials have said the governor won't announce plans for tackling the mid-year tax revenue shortfall until he presents his 2016 budget plan to lawmakers on Feb. 11.
Snyder will reveal plans to merge Michigan's Human Services and Community Health departments, spokesman Dave Murray said Tuesday.
Education advocates also expect Snyder to talk about some unfinished business from his first term, including improving third-grade reading proficiency and establishing a warning system to better detect when school districts are getting into financial trouble.
Snyder told The Associated Press he will call for the GOP-controlled Legislature to authorize spending for a commission to focus on third-grade reading — considered a critical benchmark — and other prenatal-to-third grade issues to improve children's outcomes.
He also wants to ramp up efforts to make the transition from high school to higher education more seamless, with a focus on career counseling, technical training in the skilled trades, and dual-enrollment and online learning.
Asked about legislation introduced in the last session that would hold back all third-graders who are behind in reading, he said it should be "looked at" when kids are not successful. But his initiative is focused on approaching the problem earlier.
The Associated Press contributed.
State of the State
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Chamber of Michigan House of Representatives at state Capitol in Lansing
What: Gov. Rick Snyder addresses the condition of Michigan and his agenda for the next four years in a joint session of the Michigan House and Senate.
Viewing: The Detroit News will live stream Snyder's speech. See it at detroitnews.com.