I am glad to write to you once more as your representative in Lansing. It is a busy season for the Legislature. The governor has proposed a budget for the coming year, and Appropriations subcommittees are already discussing it. Legislation on other topics is also advancing. In order to represent you and your priorities, I rely on feedback from community members. You can get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on my website, rabhi.housedems.com. I will keep you updated on developments in Lansing with this monthly e-newsletter. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at email@example.com.
I look forward to working together to move Michigan forward.
I will be holding two “Yousef and You” forums each month where anyone in our district can come to get an update on legislative issues, ask questions, and participate in open discussion. I hope many of you will be able to join me there.
The next Yousef and You forums will be:
Monday, March 9
Argus Farm Stop 325 W. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor
*Please note this is a different Argus location than in previous months*
Saturday, March 28
Community Room, RoosRoast Coffee, 1155 Rosewood St. in Ann Arbor
Medicaid Work Requirement Struck Down
Those of you who read this newsletter regularly will remember my strong opposition to Michigan’s Medicaid work requirement, which threatened to cut 100,000 Michiganders off from their Healthy Michigan health insurance this year. I am glad to say that the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC has overturned the requirement, ruling that it interfered with the legislative purpose of Medicaid—providing health care coverage. Although I am pleased with this outcome, it is a terrible shame that the state was forced to spend $30 million on preparing to implement the ill-conceived policy. I hope that we as a state can now move on to finding ways to make sure every Michigander can get needed health care without facing the risk of crushing bills.
Deciding How to Spend our Money in 2020-21
Gov. Whitmer recently presented her budget proposal to the Legislature. This represents her vision for how to prioritize our state’s resources and is the beginning of the legislative budget process. The Appropriations Committees in each chamber of the Legislature will use the executive budget recommendation as a starting point for their own budget bills, and the two chambers will negotiate a single version to send to the governor. The governor then has the power to veto individual budget line items, but she cannot add anything to the bills passed by the Legislature.
The General Fund only makes up about 18 percent of the state budget. Most other parts of the budget are dedicated to particular uses (such as schools or natural resources management). So the General Fund budget is the part that we have the most control over year to year, and we use it to pay for everything from road repairs to higher education. Due to corporate tax cuts, inflation-adjusted General Fund balances have stayed flat for the past two decades, even as our economy and population have grown.
I have long advocated for increased investment in the sorts of public goods that actually enable businesses to thrive. Quality schools, a healthy environment, and functioning transportation systems are crucial to attracting jobs to our state. Making sweetheart deals for individual businesses and lowering overall corporate tax rates has not brought us prosperity—just headlines about green ooze and crumbling bridges.
Here are a few highlights from the proposed executive budget:
Road Funding. The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that we need to invest about $2.5 billion a year in additional funding to halt the decline of Michigan’s roads and bridges. Last year, the Republican majority in the Legislature did not consent to raise substantial new revenue for roads. As a result, this year the governor has authorized the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to issue $3.5 billion in bonds over the next four years. Although there are financing costs associated with bonds, current interest rates for well-rated borrowers like Michigan are so low as to be nearly even with inflation. The Rebuilding Michigan bond plan does not require legislative approval and is not officially part of the budget proposal. However, the Legislature still needs to act to provide an ongoing funding solution for transportation.
The bond funding will be implemented through MDOT, so it will not be able to provide much-needed funds for local roads. The governor’s executive budget proposes a $205.3 million increase over last year for roads and bridges, and an additional $30 million for transit and rail.
Education Funding. Michigan schools and universities, once national models, have been slowly starved of resources. In the 24 years since Proposal A was implemented, Michigan is the only state to decrease K-12 school funding in real dollars. And tuition at public universities has risen steeply as state support has dropped.
The governor’s proposed K-12 budget would increase the minimum foundation allowance by $225 per pupil to $8,336 and the maximum by $150 per pupil to $8,679. This will raise the level of funding overall while continuing to decrease funding disparities between districts. Ann Arbor Public Schools would see a total increase of $266 per pupil under the weighted formula that provides additional support for special education, at-risk and English language learning students.
Universities and community colleges would get a 2.5 percent increase. That would be an improvement on last year’s 0.5 percent, which did not keep pace with inflation. The proposal also includes more than $77 million in increased funding for early childhood education and $35 million for job training for adults over age 25.
Pure Michigan. When the governor vetoed $37.5 million in funding for the Pure Michigan tourism marketing campaign last year, it attracted a lot of attention from people across the state. I heard from constituents concerned that this might negatively impact our state’s tourism industry, and from constituents who believe the campaign costs more than it is worth. This year, the governor has included Pure Michigan in her budget proposal, but at a much lower funding level of $15 million.
Health. The executive budget contains a number of health-related proposals that show the governor is thinking strategically about how to get the most public health impact out of limited resources. Michigan has above-average infant mortality. Black and Hispanic infants and mothers are disproportionately likely to die. Medicaid eligibility currently ends 60 days after the end of a pregnancy, but women can develop pregnancy-related medical complications such as heart problems for up to a year. The governor has proposed a new Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program to provide $37.5 million to address these problems. Visiting nurses would follow at-risk babies, and Medicaid benefits would be extended for new mothers.
Lead is hazardous to adults and children and it is estimated that investments in preventing childhood lead exposure will be returned many times over in societal benefits. Although the mismanagement of Flint’s water system focused public attention on the risk of lead in water, lead paint and contaminated soil remain the most common sources of exposure. Over 60 percent of homes in the state were constructed before lead paint was banned in 1978. The proposed budget provides $40 million for schools to address environmental health hazards like lead and asbestos. It would also set up a $10 million fund to underwrite low-interest loans for lead mitigation and remediation in homes.
The budget would also provide $12.3 million to improve public health response to the opioid misuse epidemic, $8.6 million to keep kids out of foster care and $2 million for kindergarten dental screening.
Community Mental Health (CMH) funding has been a major focus for me since my time as a county commissioner. CMH serves people with developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse through a publicly administered system. I plan to advocate for increased support for CMH in the budget because it provides crucial health care and support for daily living for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Although there have been no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection in Michigan, the state has activated the Community Health Emergency Coordination Center to prepare for screening and response. Testing is now available through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services only. If you are concerned about symptoms (primarily fever and dry cough) or exposure to a known case, public health officials recommend you call your health care provider first instead of just showing up in person, except in a medical emergency. Providers can arrange testing through public health authorities as needed. If you do not have a regular doctor, you can also call the Washtenaw County Health Department at (734) 544-6700.
The state is providing centralized coronavirus information at https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus, and the Washtenaw County Health Department has locally tailored information here. Both sites offer pages specifically aimed at employers, school administrators, health care providers, and members of the general public.
Free Tax Preparation Available
The IRS and Treasury advise all taxpayers to file as soon as they have the necessary information, to avoid the risk of identity thieves filing false returns. The IRS offers free, individualized tax preparation services for low- to moderate-income taxpayers and all senior citizens (age 50 and above). The Washtenaw County Treasurer’s Office has more information here, including locations, what documents to bring and how to schedule an appointment.
The IRS also offers access to free federal and state tax preparation software at www.irs.gov/freefile for filers with income below $69,000, and free fillable pdf tax forms for filers with higher income. Using this link is the best way to avoid being tricked into using a supposedly free service that ends up charging for add-ons. According to a recent audit, 14 million people used paid services last year when they qualified to file for free.
53rd House District