Snyder delivers State of the State
LANSING — Governor Rick Snyder touted yesterday Michigan's Medicaid expansion and called for addressing aging infrastructure over the next several decades, citing the Flint water crisis that has roiled his administration and a football field-sized sinkhole that formed recently in suburban Detroit.
In his seventh annual State of the State address to lawmakers, the second-term Republican said "we hope for the best" as the GOP-led Congress considers ending expanded Medicaid under the federal health care law, "but we can't count on it. There's going to be changes in health care. The important thing is we need to let them know that Healthy Michigan is a model that can work for the rest of the country, that we should be speaking up."
Snyder will travel to Washington on Thursday to discuss the program with members of Congress. The expansion, which is one of his signature policy achievements, is providing health insurance to 640,000 low-income adults.
On infrastructure, he did not say how to raise the additional $4 billion that a state commission has said is needed annually from federal, state and local funding along with user fees and private investment. But to start, he said, there should be better coordination so local road, sewer and fiber-optic cable projects are done simultaneously to save money.
"We're at risk in every corner of Michigan from our aging infrastructure, and we cannot take this for granted," Snyder said. He said "all public and private" funding sources should be considered, including taxes, fees, grants and bonds.
The infrastructure in need of the most expensive upgrades is transportation and water.
Many of Michigan's nearly 1,400 community water systems were built 50 to 100 years ago. Flint's contaminated water is a reminder that many places, especially older cities, still have underground lead pipes carrying water into homes and buildings.
Flint plans to replace thousands of lea d and galvanized steel service pipes with an initial $27 million in state funds.
Higher fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees took effect this as part of a $1.2 billion road-funding plan enacted in 2015, but the state still needs $2.2 billion more a year for roads and bridges, according to Snyder's infrastructure commission. A broken sewer line caused the recent sinkhole in Fraser.
Snyder did not unveil major policy initiatives in his speech to a joint session of the Republican-controlled Legislature and instead touted the state's economic turnaround. He also committed to addressing the cost of municipal retiree benefits, first with the establishment of a work group after legislation died late last year.
The address came a year after Snyder was forced to focus on Flint's lead-contaminated water in his sixth yearly speech amid withering criticism and national attention over his administration's failures that caused and prolonged the man-made public health emergency.
Elevated lead levels had been detected in children, and people had died in a Legionnaires' disease outbreak. While water quality is improving in Flint, residents continue to use faucet filters or bottled water nearly three years after the fateful switch of the city's water while it was under state management.
"We're making progress, but our work is not done yet," said Snyder, who called it a "sad chapter" in Michigan's history and again committed to fixing the crisis that has cost the state nearly $300 million and has led to criminal charges against current and former state employees and other public officials.
Democrats criticized him for not mentioning Flint until more than halfway through the 54-minute address. He spoke of the city and broader statewide infrastructure challenges for about 4½ minutes.
"One of the biggest issues that we're going to grapple with I believe this year is how do we deal with the long-term issues facing the young people of Flint - their educational needs as well as their health care needs. ... Not to have a long-term plan for that and talk about that was very disappointing," said House Minority Leader Sam Singh of East Lansing.
Snyder's focus on the economic rebound prompted Democrats to fault him for not speaking to people's economic anxieties. The former venture capitalist and computer executive, who cannot run again in 2018 because of term limits, pointed to the addition of nearly 500,000 private-sector jobs, an unemployment rate 10 points lower than in 2009 and strong growth in per-capita personal income.
He said he wants to "set a real goal" so Michigan again surpasses 10 million residents by the end of 2020. The population has risen five straight years but was last over 10 million in 2007.
"We need 71,000 more people and let's get them over the next three years. Let's put them to work in Michigan," Snyder said.