On Tuesday, the House voted on the final version of the state general government budget and the education budget for fiscal year 2017-18 funding. These budgets cover funding for all government functions, as well as education spending for the next fiscal year. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee this session, I have been working for six months now to ensure these budgets reflect the values and priorities of our Eastern Washtenaw community. Although the bills did include some positive investments into services throughout the state and the 54th House District, I feel that overall these budgets missed an opportunity to strengthen our state and improve the quality of life for hardworking, middle-class families.
Key areas of interest that were and were not funded in the general government budget bill, House Bill 4323, include:
- Eastern Michigan University’s Strong Hall Renovation. The budget included an appropriation of state funding to go toward the renovation of Eastern Michigan University’s Strong Hall. The project will cost a total of $39.5 million. The university is responsible for paying $9.9 million, while the state has dedicated $29.7 million. Traditionally, these types of capital outlay projects are expected to be funded by the university’s own finances for 25 percent of the total cost, and the state covers the additional 75 percent (it is split 50-50 for community college projects). This project will allow the university to replace outdated building systems, provide more modernized classrooms and lecture halls, and also provide additional instruction and research laboratories. The project will also focus on creating informal learning areas for astronomy, geology, global mapping/GIS, geo-tourism, geography and physics disciplines. The project will expand Strong Hall by about 10,000 square feet.
- Crumbling Infrastructure. The budget does not do enough to address Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure, despite the state Department of Transportation already having identified that by the time the 2015 road funding plan reaches targeted funding in 2021, half of our state trunk line roads will have fallen into disrepair.
- UIA Relief. The budget simply fails to address the hardships faced by thousands of Michigan families who were falsely accused of unemployment fraud when a UIA computer system malfunctioned, requiring them to pay thousands in penalties and interest. This money – which these families deserve to have repaid – went to the state’s UIA Contingency Fund, which the 2018 fiscal year budget has raided to the tune of $24.5 million to fund other projects. This is on top of the $10 million that the state already took from the UIA Contingency Fund to balance the current 2017 fiscal year budget. These families deserve to be made whole again, and this budget failed to help them.
- Revenue Sharing. Over the years, the state has continued to reduce the funding it provides to our local communities. This has resulted in many communities struggling to provide the local services that residents rely on, including police and firefighters. In House District 54, however, we did receive revenue sharing increases in the following communities:
- City of Ypsilanti: 1.4 percent increase
- Superior Township: 2.2 percent increase
- Ypsilanti Township: 2.0 percent increase
I am grateful for these increases, as any money at all is better than none. However, this alone was not enough to earn my support for this budget.
- Fire Protection Grant Fund. This grant, which has received various funding amounts every fiscal year but never been fully funded, was established to alleviate fire protection costs that local municipalities with state-owned institutions face. For years, it has played a significant role for our district, as we are the home to Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College, which qualifies us for that grant money. This grant funding is necessary as these state-owned institutions do not pay property taxes, which are used by local governments to pay for fire protection among other basic services. Although every year the funding amount for the Fire Protection Grant Fund can vary, it has become a funding source that many municipalities have relied upon since it was enacted into law in 1977. By working closely with the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee Chair, I was able to secure a $1.4 million increase to the Fire Protection Grant Fund above the governor’s recommendation. This increase falls short of my ambitious goal to fully fund Fire Protection Grants, but it does leave open the possibility for future supplemental grants. While the final dollar amount will not be available until the end of the year, the city of Ypsilanti may expect to receive a payment well in in excess of $400,000 in the next fiscal year to help keep our community safe.
The School Aid budget bill, House Bill 4313, also failed to address many issues of importance to me and many of the constituents that have contacted me in recent weeks. Although it did include some positive enhancements, I was unfortunately unable to vote in favor of this bill as well, as it did not do enough to support our schools, teachers and students.
Key aspects of the School Aid budget include:
- Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. This budget reflected the changes voted on over the past two weeks that would change future public school employees’ retirement options. I opposed closing MPSERS to new employees, as it shifts costs from state-negotiated and state-managed retirement plans into classroom budgets while ignoring the state’s unfunded legacy pension liability. I voted against this legislation and I will continue to fight to mitigate its negative effects on teachers, their families and the profession.
- Per-Pupil and At-Risk Funding. All schools in House District 54 will receive the maximum $120 per-pupil for fiscal year 2018 except for Van Buren Public Schools ($112) and Ypsilanti Public Schools ($104). In addition to the foundation allowance, the state was also able to increase per-pupil funding for high school students by $25. Schools in HD 54 will also receive $777 in at-risk funding per-eligible-pupil. I am grateful that our schools are receiving the additional support they need; however, we are still falling short of adequately funding our state’s schools across the board. A study commissioned by the Legislature identified that we are underfunding our schools by more than $1,000 per pupil, and while this increase is a step forward, this budget could have provided much more for our students than it ultimately did.
- Collective Bargaining Penalty. I support a teacher’s ability to collectively bargain and negotiate his or her employment contracts with the school administration. It was alarming to learn that this budget bill included language that would penalize a district or an intermediate school district that enters into a collective bargaining agreement that includes provisions such as automatically deducting union dues from an employee’s paycheck, if they so desire.
These are only a few of the thousands of items and issues that make up our state’s $56.5 billion budget. Please feel free to contact my office to discuss these or any other matters of state business. Your opinions matter.