Our editorial: A modest agenda from the governor

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder delivered what can best be described as a survey State of the State address this week, touching briefly on a variety of accomplishments and remaining challenges, but going deep on none.

The speech was absent any new major initiatives. The governor instead seems content focusing on fine-tuning and expanding the programs he’s already put in place. That reflects the reality that he is in the second half of his second term, and time is running short for putting in place substantive projects that he won’t be around to guide to completion.

And while it defies the tradition of State of the State addresses, which are typically filled with pie-in-the-sky proposals that have little chance of materializing, it is the right approach — with some exceptions.

Snyder established his priorities early in his tenure, and they remain pretty much the same in this year’s agenda outline. He will continue to stress worker training. Some 90,000 good paying jobs are going unfilled in the state for lack of trained workers. In Detroit, contractors are having to pay fines because they can’t find enough skilled city workers to meet the city’s residency requirement on major projects.

The governor will also keep pushing public pension reform legislation, which failed in the lame duck session last year. This time, he says he will bring all of the stakeholders together to craft a plan that has maximum support. It’s a smarter choice than trying to push through hurry-up legislation.

And he touted the success of Healthy Michigan, the Medicaid expansion he enacted under Obamacare. That program is threatened by Congress’s move to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Snyder pledged to fight for its continuation, and will need the help of other governors who are in a similar position.

The stay-the-course strategy is appropriate for these final two years, except in the areas of infrastructure and education. Snyder mentioned both those subjects Tuesday night, but did not offer specifics plans.

Infrastructure is top-of-mind after the giant sinkhole opened in Fraser last fall, damaging homes. The repair will cost $100 million, and the prediction is that others will collapse throughout the region as aging pipes give way.

A Snyder task force pegs the infrastructure need at $80 billion over the next 20 years. Where will that money come from? Snyder should provide answers next month in his budget introduction.

He talked far more briefly about the Flint water crisis than he did a year ago, noting the progress made in improving water quality. But as Snyder said, the city still has considerable needs that must be met. Like most other subjects, Snyder gave education just a few lines in the speech. It merits more.

By most other measures —economic growth, job creation, government efficiency, etc.—Snyder has made the state better during his first six years. The same can’t be said of education.

Michigan remains a bottom 10 state in education performance, and still lacks a comprehensive strategy for implementing effective reforms. The governor’s education task force will release a report on the status of education in Michigan early next month. Hopefully it will contain meaningful suggestions.

But a lack of ideas has never been the problem. There has not been the political will to champion them. Snyder must be that champion in his final two years. He must finally break through the wall of resistance from special interests and put in place reforms that have worked in other states. That would cement his legacy.