LANSING, MI – Governor Rick Snyder used his 2012 State of the State speech to strike an optimistic tone about Michigan's future, and to refocus attention on what he says is unfinished business from last year.
In his second State of the State address, Governor Snyder got to start off with some good news - Michigan's unemployment rate fell in the final month of 2011 to the lowest it's been in over three years.
"Unemployment in the last 12 months has dropped from 11.1 percent to 9.3 percent," Snyder says.
And Snyder says that's evidence his strategy of "relentless positive action" - he used his trademark phrase twice in the speech - is working.
Now a fair amount of that drop is because so many people have quit looking for jobs that they've dropped out of the workforce. Adding those people, as well as those who are working part-time but wishing for full-time jobs puts Michigan's rate of unemployment and under-employment closer to 19 percent.
But, despite lingering challenges, the governor says things are moving in the right direction: Michigan's finances are looking up, and he says 2012 should be a time to build on the successes of 2011.
"We are on that path," Snyder says. "We're getting it right. We are getting it done."
The former CEO says reducing regulation and better "customer service" remain priorities.
Governor Snyder focused largely on unfinished business from 2011 - including starting work on an international bridge in Detroit. The governor says that would place Michigan in the center of a trade zone stretching from Kansas City to Montreal that accounts for a third of North America's economic activity.
He says more money - over a billion dollars - is desperately needed for roads and bridges. Snyder called on the Legislature to create health care exchanges required under federal law for people to comparison shop online for health insurance; and for insurance companies to cover treatments for autism.
These are all areas where the governor's opposition has come primarily from Republicans in the Legislature. But GOP House Speaker Jase Bolger says there is room for compromise.
"Tonight's speech was a good mix of looking back, accounting for what was done, accounting for what was not yet completed as well as looking forward and making sure that we set the tone for working forward," Bolger says.
Democrats say that tone was often bitter in 2011, and they fought the governor and legislative Republicans on a wide variety of issues. House Democratic Leader Rick Hammel says he would like to see more bipartisanship in 2012.
"We're willing to work with them on things that make some sense, but we're certainly not going to sit back when we see some things that are going to harm middle class families," Hammel says.
The governor defended his controversial tax overhaul, and he says the state's tough new emergency manager law is helping struggling cities and schools districts dig out from deficits, "but the long-term answer is not about simply about cutting costs. It's how to create a financially solid foundation so growth can occur again."
He called for stronger ethics and campaign finance laws in a speech that otherwise called for few new initiatives.
The governor says he will outline plans for improved public safety and energy and the environment later this year.