Snyder has series of daunting challenges ahead for this year

No smooth sailing for Gov. Rick Snyder or state lawmakers in the year ahead. There’s a lot more to be done if they want to continue reshaping Michigan. Important reforms are hanging fire from last year, and we’ve already learned Snyder plans a major push for road repair money.

With 2014 looming as a big state election year, he and fellow Republicans should look to clear the boards in the next 11 months. Thorny issues remain. Those tend to become insurmountable for politicians months away from re-election bids. They want to avoid votes that could arm challengers with fresh ammunition.

With a narrower GOP House majority, it will be harder to pass big bills this year. Democratic backlash is probable after transformational legislation such as right to work sped through the 2012 lame-duck session.

Slow economic recovery could drag down state tax revenue, although Budget Director John Nixon expects to be able to continue prefunding public retirement benefits and replenishing the rainy day fund.

Snyder used Wednesday’s State of the State message as a call to action on these leftover items, in addition to road funding:

– NO FAULT – Proposed reforms to let motorists choose something less than unlimited personal injury coverage were overwhelmed by testimony from crash victims who couldn’t have afforded the care they need without it. But the cost of keeping the requirement for all drivers is steadily jacking up auto insurance premiums. It added $145 to the cost of insurance for each vehicle in 2011, $175 in 2012.

– HEALTH EXCHANGES- A House committee scuttled Snyder’s proposal for Michigan’s version of the federal Affordable Care Act requirement. He plans to work with federal officials to create exchanges where uninsured Michiganians can shop for the health care coverage to comply with the act. But he’ll have to make the case for lawmakers to let him accept and spend the federal grant available for doing so.

– TROUBLED SCHOOLS – Snyder could argue for expanding the special school district that currently is in charge of low-performing Detroit schools. He wants to take it statewide, but the Legislature failed to do that in the face of significant opposition that’s sure to resurface.

– EDUCATION FUNDING – A whole new scheme for organizing and funding schools caused a stir at the Capitol when presented late last year by attorney Richard McLellan, former top adviser to ex-Gov. John Engler. It would allow schools more flexibility to specialize. A complex voucher system would expand student options by enabling them to take courses online or outside their own districts. Lawmakers and school officials needed more time than was available to sort through the radical changes. Snyder can encourage the Legislature to adopt elements of the plan he favors.

– MEDICAL MARIJUANA – Clarity was added to the statute last year. Patients now are required to have an established relationship with the physician who’ll recommend marijuana use for their illnesses, for example. But lawmakers have yet to decide whether the state will authorize dispensaries, or users will have to continue buying from home growers with state-issued permits. Does the governor have a view on this?

– INDIGENT DEFENSE – A Snyder task force recommended a special commission, overseen by the Michigan Supreme Court, to improve on the uneven patchwork of public defenders and funding available for legal representation of poor people accused of crimes. The recommendation went nowhere. Snyder needs to get this long-unaddressed problem back on the front burner.

Past governors unveiled new initiatives during their State of State speeches. Snyder has used a series of special messages, reminiscent of ex-Gov. William Milliken, to outline the many parts of his reform plan. On Wednesday night, he aired them again to make sure lawmakers are with him.