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Snyder budget focuses on student performance

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration
Governor Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder calls for a slight boost in spending in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year – with more money for police, schools, and universities. The governor says this year’s spending plan is built on tough decisions made last year.

Snyder was flanked by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley and Budget Director John Nixon as he took a seat in front of a packed house. He presented his budget plans to a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees. The governor started out with a short history lesson, reminding lawmakers of how things have changed since his budget presentation from a year ago. “It was a mess,” Calley said.

In 2011, the governor called for taxing pensions; taking $400 million dollars from the School Aid Fund to help pay for universities –  which still saw a cut in funding – and concessions from public employees. “We had to address a billion and a half dollar deficit. We addressed that. We had to ask for shared sacrifice from many people, a lot of difficult decisions and I appreciate a lot of understanding by a lot of people,” Snyder said.

This year, the economy has improved, and so has revenue. The governor called for modest increases to money for schools and universities – much of it linked to improving student performance. Local governments could also see more if they find ways to become more efficient.

The governor called for more money for law enforcement, but says details will wait until next month when he delivers a special address on public safety. And he says the state should drop $130 million dollars into the state’s “rainy day” savings, which were practically non-existent a year ago. He says that will also help convince Wall Street to upgrade Michigan’s bond rating.

All of that was good news to lawmakers, especially Republicans, who can run for re-election this year without worrying about the chagrin caused by a new round of spending cuts. State Representative Eileen Kowall says this year’s budget was a welcome change. “I don’t think we’re quite at the point where the future’s so bright that we gotta wear shades. But we’re getting there,” Kowall said.

In fact, the change in tone from a year ago was enough to inspire people to applaud once the governor wrapped up his presentation.

Democrats, too, welcomed the fact that the governor’s new budget does not call for more sacrifice from schools and local governments. But state Representative Ellen Cogan-Lipton says the modest boost to school funding does not make up for what happened last year. “A budget that fails to fully restore that $400 million dollars and then some is a failed budget as to education – no cause, no cause for celebration, in my opinion,” Cogan-Lipton said.

The governor also wants to extend insurance coverage to pay for autism treatments. He wants that to be part of his new Medicaid budget, and he’s called for private insurers to also cover autism treatments. The governor also called for expanding dental care for children in low-income families, and a modest boost for arts and culture programs.

It’s unusual for a budget presentation to be met with applause. But that’s exactly what happened as the governor wrapped up.

The governor says the main goal of his budget proposal is fiscal stability, and making Michigan an attractive place to live and to work. He also set a goal – but with no timeline – of having Michigan’s employment rate beat the national average.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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