Last week, a deeply divided House of Representatives pushed through a fiscal year 2018 general government spending plan that totaled $272 million less in General Fund than what Gov. Rick Snyder proposed. Differing budget philosophies caused tempers to flare and legislative session to run late into the night.
HB 4323, the general government budget bill, passed 60-47 on a mostly party-line vote. Three of 63 Republicans voted against the budget. No Democrats supported it.
Democrats fought to make the bad bill better, proposing more than 20 amendments that would have restored funding to vital programs and services, but to no avail. From mental health to environmental protections to senior citizen funding to local governments, each amendment was rejected out of hand without permitting members to vote on the proposed changes.
The House-passed version of the budget leaves a surplus of about $280 million. At this point, there is no indication of what House leadership plans to do with this money. The roads still need fixing. Our cities, townships and villages are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. The residents of Flint are still afraid to drink the water. There are still overcrowded classrooms.
There is talk that the House, having created this artificial budget surplus, will once again try to pass an income tax cut. Others speculate that the cash will be used to seal the teacher pension fund – closing it to future enrollment. New teachers would be offered no pension, making it that much more difficult to attract quality educators to the profession.
Whatever the plan may be, the outcome is far from certain. The Michigan Senate passed its own far different (but no less distasteful) version of the budget this week. The differences in the House and Senate versions have to be resolved before the budget is presented to the governor for his signature. Budget items yet to be finalized include:
- Resolving how to fund the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, and whether to close it to new hires. I oppose closing MPSERS – the upfront cost is too great, and long-term savings are not guaranteed.
- Support for the people of Flint. The state is responsible for poisoning thousands of Flint residents; this budget needs to demonstrate that the health of our citizens comes first.
- Giving more back to local communities. Local governments are funded in part with payments that come directly from the state. The state collects tax dollars and shares a small portion with local governments – this is called revenue sharing. I fought for the increases in revenue sharing payments that are found in the House version of the budget. I will continue to fight to protect the funding that our local governments depend on.
- Protecting our citizens. The good news is that everyone agrees we need more State Police troopers; the problem is agreeing on how many troopers to add, and at what cost.
- Support for our public universities. In 2011, the state responded to a budget deficit by slashing funding for higher education by 15 percent. Despite increases over the last few years, we are still below the 2011 funding levels — I am aggressively working for at least a 2.5 percent increase in the higher education budget.
- Health services staffing and pay increases. The governor, the House and the Senate are divided over how to adequately staff and pay the people who provide care and services through our Department of Health and Human Services. Home health care workers are grossly underpaid; I know of some who left their health care jobs for more lucrative employment in the fast food industry! The state needs to step up and pay these hard working individuals a living wage.
- Corrections reform now. One out of every three male residents of the city of Detroit has a felony conviction — it is time to cut off this pipeline to prison. Even when people are released, too often they end up returning to prison because they were unable to receive the reintegration services they needed. It’s time we end the current lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality and work on providing former prisoners with adequate funding for necessary reentry services so that they can live productive lives in society.
There are plenty of other points of contention that I have with the 2018 budget, and as I stated above, the process is far from over. On May 17, the quarterly Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference will finalize just how much money the governor and Legislature have to negotiate with. Once the official revenue estimate is agreed on, the Legislative and executive branches of state government will begin hammering out a final budget deal.
I urge each and every one of you to take an interest in this budget process. Your elected officials need to hear from you just exactly what type of Michigan you want to live in.
To read more about the School Aid budget as passed by the House, please follow the links below:
To read more about the general government budget as passed by the House, please follow the link below: