Long on rhetoric but short on details.
That is my quick take on Gov. Rick Snyder's third "State of the State" address this week regarding road and bridge funding reform.
While I was ready to see exactly how the governor was going to pull the specifics off for more highway funding, nothing official was offered. Ultimately we all were left with a dream that on paper, none of us would argue with, but when it comes time for the instructions on how to accomplish that goal, that's where the disagreement always surfaces.
Snyder understands that, and thus in a politically savvy decision, deferred the specifics to the legislature, where the debate and wrangling will take place. Oh, he hinted at what he would like but in the end, left it with state legislators to ponder.
I'll let you be the judge. Was Snyder's lack of details politically astute, so as to not doom any proposal out of the gate, or severely lacking, because frankly, he knows it will be a tough sell at this time?
Regardless of how you answer the above, there are three truths that also come into play with any road financing discussion.
First, Lansing Democrats will make this year one of political "H-E-double toothpicks" for Snyder. Their willingness to compromise and negotiate after the lame duck Right-To-Work legislation of 2012 will hang over the capitol all year long. Thus, for any road legislation to advance, it will need practically every Republican legislator on board and that, my friends, won't be easy to sell either.
Second, even though legislators just began a new legislative session this month, thoughts of 2014 aren't far off for many, especially those facing term limits who hope to jump chambers. The longer it takes for any proposal to surface and be considered, the less likely its chances of passage will be as 2014 draws nearer.
The third is that by now no one in Lansing - legislator, lobbyist or consultant - short changes Snyder on what he may, or may not accomplish. The governor has proven an uncanny ability of being able to accomplish things others never could and frankly, the more challenging the task, the more he seems to relish the project and rise to meet it.
The One Tough Nerd really has made a mark in the Lansing bureaucracy, especially with items that buck conventional political wisdom.
Snyder sounded like the old General Motors' "Mr. Goodwrench" by implying "You can pay me now, or pay me later" philosophy regarding highway funding and costly vehicle repairs resulting from a crumbling state highway system.
While his address was short on specifics, in a briefing with reporters prior to the speech, senior policy adviser Bill Rustem indicated the governor favors replacing the tax on fuels paid at the pump with a tax on wholesale gas prices, as well as raising motor vehicle registration fees.
In addition, the governor favors allowing local road commissions to implement a further increase on vehicle registrationsm for local road repairs.
Until we know specifically what will emerge, it is senseless to enter into any kind of serious debate. However, the reality of all three increases moving forward in these economic times seems like a deal breaker right out of the gate.
At best, the legislature should concentrate on one area and use it either as a replacement to, or supplement with, existing funding.
Everyone knows good roads are a necessity. Unfortunately, clicking our heels together and wiggling our ears won't make them suddenly appear.