LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Five things to know about Gov. Rick Snyder's third annual State of the State address Wednesday night:
ROAD SHOW: Snyder dusted off an earlier proposal to raise taxes and vehicle registration fees to fix the state's ailing roads and bridges. He said investing around $10 billion over a decade will save motorists billions more in car repairs, keep thousands employed and save lives. The pay-more-but-get-more approach nonetheless could be a tough sell as it was in the last legislative session, where it gained little traction. Conservatives are expected to fight any tax-raising efforts, and Democrats vowed after the speech to fight higher taxes on the middle class and instead raised the idea of hiking taxes on large corporations or vehicle registration fees on luxury cars. Still, lawmakers concede it's unwise to underestimate Snyder, who has found ways to get much of what he wanted in the last legislative session and brokered a deal with the Canadians to build another bridge over the Detroit River.
REBIRTH OF THE BLUES: Snyder made it clear he wants to push forward once again with legislation to transform Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan from a charitable trust to a customer-owned nonprofit while easing regulations on the insurer and requiring it to pay taxes. Blue Cross spokesman Andrew Hetzel said the governor's proposed overhaul "creates fair competition among health insurers and expands consumer choice and generates millions in new revenue for state and local governments." But critics worry that the insurance giant's transformation ultimately might mean less financial help for seniors in the long-term. Snyder surprised many by vetoing the bill during last month's lame-duck session due to an anti-abortion rider.
VOTERS' CHOICE: Snyder said he's working with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson on proposals to allow voters to register online and obtain absentee ballots without citing a reason as they must now. Democrats after the speech said they were glad to see the governor embracing their proposals, and similar legislation has been by Warren Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda.
PROTESTERS PERSIST: The shouts and drums of more than 200 protesters circling the Capitol could be heard inside the chambers as Snyder delivered his speech. Union workers stressed that they will continue to fight the right-to-work legislation passed last month to send Snyder the message that he will be held accountable for his actions. "This is our Capitol. We're not going anywhere," said Mike Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 652 in Lansing. "Every time he turns around, we're going to be there." Others joined them, including environmentalists opposed to expanding the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract gas from deep underground.
MAKING AMENDS? Snyder spoke of a "divisive" December, alluding to the month in which he and GOP legislative leaders rapidly shepherded through right-to-work legislation that makes it illegal to require non-union workers to pay fees to unions that negotiate their contracts. He said he hoped "we can work together" and "avoid those situations," and he promised to "work hard to find common ground." Will it work? An instant read-out wasn't promising: GOP lawmakers rose to their feet while Democrats remained seated, though a few clapped. Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer later called Snyder's overtures to openness "lip service."
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