Snyder: Public safety, better mental health services priorities in '12

LANSING, MI – Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes the state will start to enjoy some of the rewards next year of the difficult choices that were part of his plan to "reinvent Michigan." But he also says there are still school districts struggling with their budgets, and Michigan has some of the most-dangerous cities in the country.

Governor Snyder has this message for people who were hurt or offended by decisions the decisions he made this year:

"Hopefully this was reaching the bottom, these were difficult things," Snyder says. "Now let's reach forward in a positive way."

The governor's first year in office saw seniors' pensions taxed, money slashed from school and university budgets, and sweeping new powers for emergency managers.
And thousands of people showed up at the state Capitol to rail against those changes.

But the governor says big decisions were needed to end Michigan's persistent cycle of budget shortfalls.

"I think we laid most of it to rest and that was part of the goal and intention because it wasn't done to create difficulty for anyone," Snyder says. "We faced about a billion and a half dollar deficit. We were in serious financial trouble in our own right, and we needed to address that in some thoughtful way, in a way that was structurally sound for the long term and dealt with the short term issue."

As a result, the governor says, 2012 will not see cuts to K-12 schools and universities that made some people so angry in 2011. He does not rule out restoring some of that money if, as expected, the state shows a budget surplus come January.

But he says local governments and school districts still struggle with their budgets and, in some cases, the state may have to step in. He says that could include naming more emergency managers.

"There could be, hopefully, a handful or less of communities or schools that are under financial stress and the goal is not to have them end up in financial receivership and that's part of the benefits of the law we passed was, is the early warning system is about a way to work on reviews, preliminary and formal reviews, consent agreements, hopefully to avoid that status," Snyder says.

That presumes the emergency manager law approved this past January survives a court challenge and a referendum drive.

But state officials say the law is working -- and they expect at least one of the five local governments under emergency managers to emerge from receivership in 2012.

The costs of police, fire protection, and jails are some of the biggest challenges facing local governments. The governor says public safety will be a priority next year.

"Because we need to do a better job there," Snyder. We have four of the Top 10 cities on the bad list for violent crime and that's not a good answer."

The governor says crime in Michigan, not to mention the heavy cost of incarcerating people, cannot be addressed without reversing a trend of disinvestment in mental health services.

"I think it's an area for improvement in terms of investing dollars because I think if you go into our corrections system, you can find people that if you look in their file, in retrospect, if would have been able to treat them earlier, they probably wouldn't be where they're at today and everyone would have been better off," Snyder says.

It's an agenda the governor will have to sell to a Legislature that's not always been receptive to his ideas. Democrats say they've been pretty much shut out of the discussions, and Republicans have found their GOP governor is not always as conservative as they are.

The Legislature's Republican majorities denied Snyder two of his biggest policy objectives this year. Plans for a new international bridge between Detroit and Windsor-Ontario got scrapped. So did online exchanges to shop for health insurance. Those exchanges are required as part of President Obama's health care reform law. The governor says he will keep pressing, bringing up his administration's mantra of "relentless positive action."

"We're going to keep the conversation," Snyder says. The part of the r' of relentless positive action is relentless, so we're going to keep working that."

He says that will start again in January when the Legislature returns to Lansing.