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Second term agenda focused on right priorities

The Detroit News

With the election behind him, Gov. Rick Snyder can now concentrate on his second-term agenda. Most of his priorities carry over from his first four years, and it's a list worth pursuing.

Snyder took his re-election as a signal from citizens that he's on the right track.

"It was a re-affirmation of all the stuff we've been working on," Snyder told The Detroit News Editorial Board Wednesday.

The No. 1 priority the governor set is making sure a comprehensive transportation package passes out of the Legislature, preferably in the lame duck session. It needs to get done.

Snyder says the main constraint that halted movement on road funding this summer was the upcoming election. Now that it's over, the governor is confident lawmakers will come to a compromise. Legislative proposals already exist that would provide the additional funding necessary to start making long-overdue infrastructure improvements.

"The package was pretty much done," Snyder says.

He repeated the state needs to raise at least $1 billion more annually to fix Michigan's roads and bridges. That revenue would come from a mix of new fees and taxes.

One option is converting the 19-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax and 15-cent diesel tax to a 7 percent wholesale fuel tax. Another possibility is increasing the 6 percent state sales tax and dedicating the increase to road repairs. The Senate has also approved a plan to eliminate the phase-out of some registration fee discounts. Other measures would place more restrictions and fees on overweight trucks.

Also in lame duck, Snyder says he wants lawmakers to consider legislation that would expand the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Law to include protections for the gay, lesbian and transgender community. Although he stopped short of saying the Legislature should pass it, he said he "supports having the discussion." He'll need to be more clear about where he stands if he expects the Legislature to act.

Looking to next year, Snyder says he will continue to focus on supporting the skilled trades in Michigan. "It's my top priority," he says.

At least 80,000 jobs remain unfilled in Michigan because businesses can't find qualified employees. Snyder is right to make this a priority, especially in Detroit, where unemployment remains high and skills low.

Regarding education, a significant priority during Snyder's first term, the governor wants to continue his focus on improving options for children, from birth through college. He wants more accountability and transparency for all public schools — not just charter schools.

Snyder also said he wants more emphasis placed on a third-grade reading standard, something some lawmakers are working on.

He didn't specify the future of the state reform district, the Education Achievement Authority, which runs 15 schools in Detroit. But he did say he's interested in broader discussions with Detroit leaders and residents regarding the future of K-12 schools in the city. And with Detroit Public Schools' emergency manager Jack Martin likely leaving his post in January, time is short to consider a more comprehensive approach to school governance. As Snyder says, the DPS school board doesn't have a good track record.

With the Detroit bankruptcy wrapping up, the governor still plans to have a close relationship with the city, including continued state oversight of its finances. He's looking forward to a more "traditional relationship" between Detroit's elected leaders and state government.

This is a solid set of initial priorities for Snyder as he looks to his next term.