Snyder delivers strong agenda
Gov. Rick Snyder's fifth State of the State address Tuesday evening reflected many of the achievements he has overseen in his first term. The governor's upbeat tone matches the state's increased stability. Detroit is out of bankruptcy and there's no doubt Michigan is in a better place than when he first took office.
But Snyder acknowledged he still has unfinished business to tackle as he begins his second term. "We're better, but better isn't good enough," Snyder said.
The governor largely focused on priorities he's touched on previously, but he did offer a few new initiatives which should make state government run more effectively — something that's proven a top goal for Snyder.
Here are the highlights:
■Efficient government: An elected leader who seeks to shrink government rather than expand it is refreshing — and rare. Snyder laid out the details of his plan to merge the state Community Health and Human Services departments. The two agencies would become the Department of Health and Human Services. The combined department should make it easier for struggling individuals to find the help they need in one place, from health and welfare services to job training. Snyder says his idea is to make government more centered on people — not programs.
This is a good plan, consistent with his previous executive orders to consolidate departments. Last month, Snyder created a Department of Talent and Economic Development that places workforce development programs together with housing and economic development agencies. Three years ago, Snyder formed the Michigan Office of Great Start, consolidating the state's early childhood programs.
The governor keeps finding ways to make state government more cost-effective — a worthy goal.
■Education: Snyder is maintaining his focus on third-grade reading. Two bills dealing with third-grade literacy died in the Legislature in December, but the governor wants to revive the discussion. Too many Michigan students aren't reading proficiently by this important benchmark. Snyder started making this more of a priority last fall, and education advocacy groups in the state have pushed the issue hard. Based on state tests, more than a third of third-graders aren't proficient readers. That's a problem, although the focus shouldn't only be on retention but also on giving schools support to retool instruction.
Snyder also continues to call for the Legislature to pass a statewide evaluation for teachers. And he says he will keep focusing on the skilled trades and easing the transition from high school to higher education.
■Transportation: The governor was not pleased when the Legislature failed to pass a road-funding package in its lame-duck session. But in the end, he went along with lawmakers' decision to punt the decision to Michigan voters, and he continues to push the May ballot proposal that would raise the state sales tax. "I need you to vote yes," Snyder said.
We do not support increasing the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent. And since there's a good chance voters won't approve the measure, Snyder should have a back-up plan ready to roll out.
Overall, this is a strong agenda that reflects a more stable state. With many of the major structural issues in order, Snyder can now turn to fine-tuning state government.