House and Senate forward budget to Gov. Snyder
From left, State Budget Director John Nixon, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville gather in the back of the chamber to savor the moment as the Michigan House of Representatives passes Gov. Rick Snyder's budget Thursday afternoon, May 26, 2011 in Lansing, Mic
The Republican governor, a former Gateway computer executive and venture capitalist, pushed hard to complete his first budget in record time, a mission completed at the fastest pace in 30 years. Snyder earlier this year gave Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, clocks that count down to May 31, urging lawmakers to finish the budget before time expired. Lawmakers apparently got the message, putting a $47.4 billion spending plan in place four months before the fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
Memorial Day was in 1981, a budget spokesman said.
"We did have to cut a lot from this budget to have it successful for the long term. So I do appreciate people that are making sacrifices as part of this process," Snyder told reporters. "It's not something to be underestimated or glossed over. But it does set a foundation for the future."
Early completion of the budget gives school districts and local governments whose budget years start July 1 some certainty about state assistance as they set their own budgets -- even though many school and local officials don't like what's in the plan.
It also avoids the deadline drama that engulfed recent legislatures as they struggled to put a budget in place before Oct. 1. In 2007, the state endured a four-hour, partial government shutdown after the GOP-controlled Senate and Democrat-led House missed the deadline over differences on tax increases.
Democratic lawmakers said the budget bills will force students and the poor to shoulder the brunt of the budget cuts.
The measures "force schools to increase class sizes, cut band and arts programs, sports and after-school clubs, and eliminate advanced placement classes," said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. "This is not a statement that we should be making. Cutting schools will make our state less attractive to business and investment."
The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, launched television ads accusing lawmakers who voted for the bills of giving businesses a huge tax break at the expense of education.
The Senate approved the final two-bill package Thursday by votes of 21-17 and 23-15. The House approved the measures earlier in the afternoon on votes of 62-47 and 59-50. Both chambers passed the bills along party lines, with most Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.
The plan cuts the state's minimum per-pupil foundation allowance for public schools to $6,846, a drop of roughly 6 percent. That cut includes a $300-per-student reduction. There's also a $170-per-student reduction that's already on the books but was not felt this school year because the drop in state funding was filled with extra federal funds.
Some districts could shrink the funding decrease by $100 per student if they follow so-called "best financial practices," such as consolidating services or having school employees pay at least 10 percent of their health care premiums. Another $100 per student, on average, will go to all districts to partially offset rising retirement costs, although the amount will vary by school district.
State aid to universities will drop 15 percent across the board. Universities would lose more state aid if they don't limit tuition increases to roughly 7 percent this fall. State aid to community colleges will drop by about 4 percent.
Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, said Thursday he was not happy making cuts, but the fiscal measures are part of living within our means as a state. However, the K-12 budget chairman noted that he and other lawmakers believe the state is showing signs of improvement.
"This was the first year I've seen an increase in revenue in the annual report," said Walker, who previously served three terms in the House.
The social safety net also takes a hit under the budget. Most able-bodied welfare recipients face a stricter four-year lifetime limit to receive benefits. The state's clothing allowance program for children on welfare has been reduced. State-reimbursed indigent burials are now restricted to cases where the deceased's body is not claimed. The state's disability assistance monthly payment will be cut to $200 for new applicants, down from $269.
On Thursday, with both his budget and his sweeping tax reforms safely through the Legislature, Snyder praised the GOP majorities in the House and Senate for getting the job done by his May 31 deadline.
Freshman Republican lawmakers were quick to call the budget a "sustainable" solution for Michigan's financial woes.
Former television weatherman turned state representative, Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, said the budgets send a clear message about "what it takes to improve our state's economy and financial outlook."
"These efforts speak volumes to the dedication of Michigan's representatives and senators, and those residents who took part in the budget process by providing their valuable input, to bring economic stability and sustainability to our state," MacMaster said.
Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, upon the budget's completion, recalled the "thoughts, concerns, worries and questions" he heard during 40 town halls in the 107th House district.
"I appreciate all the local residents who came out for the meetings to share their input on the budget process," Foster said. "This plan helps our state -- it puts jobs first, while protecting seniors, low-income families and small businesses. We are making bold changes and tough decisions, and because we are, Michigan will be a better place to provide jobs and we will become competitive again."
Even as the governor and Republicans celebrate, not all voters are buying the sweeping tax and budget changes. Sixty percent gave Snyder a negative job rating in a recent EPIC-MRA poll, and an even larger percentage of voters said they opposed cutting education.