LANSING (WWJ/AP) - The Republican-led Michigan Legislature has finished approving a new state budget that will cut state aid for education and many state departments, sending the measures to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.
The Senate approved the final two-bill package Thursday by votes of 27-17 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-line votes, with most Republicans voting in favor and Democrats opposed.
The bills now go to the Governor’s office, where WWJ Lansing Bureau Tim Skubick says Rick Snyder will be waiting with pen in hand.
Snyder pushed hard to complete his first budget in record time. Earlier this year, he gave Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Speaker Jase Bolger clocks that count down to May 31, urging lawmakers to finish the budget before time expired. Lawmakers got the message.
“Remember, the governor set this deadline of May 31st, way back when the snow was blowing instead of the rain, in January. Nobody in this town, or very few, thought they could pull it off, and indeed they have done it,” Skubick said.
In recent years, lawmakers often have not completed the budget until the start of the Oct. 1 fiscal year, and have even pushed the state into brief government shutdowns.
“They will leave for the Memorial Day weekend for the first time in thirty years with a completed state budget,” Skubick said. “Traditionally, in this town, lawmakers have to go back home and march in their parades and talk to people about why the budget isn’t done. This year they can go back with smiles,” he said.
The new budget year starts Oct. 1. Early completion of the budget gives school districts and local governments some certainty about state assistance as they set their own budgets this summer – even though many school and local officials don’t like what’s in the plan.
In 2007, the state endured a four-hour, partial government shutdown as legislators and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm missed the budget deadline. More than 1,000 people were ordered to leave state campgrounds as services began to shut down, making Michigan a “laughingstock” at the time, according to current House Appropriations Chairman Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham.
“This is a historic moment… sort of one for the record books,” Moss said Thursday as it became evident next year’s budget plan would be completed months before the new budget year starts.
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 size of the cut by $100 per student if they achieve so-called “best financial practices,” which include such things as consolidating services or having school employees pay at least 10 percent of their health care premiums. Another $100 per student, on average, would go to all districts to partially offset rising retirement costs.
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.
The social safety net also takes a hit. Most able-bodied welfare recipients would face a stricter four-year lifetime limit to receive benefits. The state’s clothing allowance program for children on welfare would be reduced. State-reimbursed indigent burials would be restricted to cases where the deceased’s body is not claimed. The state’s disability assistance monthly payment would be cut to $200 for new applicants, down from $269.
Snyder on Wednesday signed a separate budget-related bill that cuts business taxes and raises income taxes on some Michigan residents. On Thursday, he praised lawmakers’ efforts to get the budget and tax bills passed by his May 31 deadline.
“It was about us all working together … and it’s something I want to see continue,” Snyder told reporters at the Capitol. “It’s about creating a new culture here. It’s about how we’re winning together, instead of how people are looking at a win-lose equation. And that’s exciting.”
Democrats voted against the budget bills, saying they’re forcing students and the poor to shoulder the brunt of the cuts.
The measures “force schools to increase class sizes, cut band and arts programs, sports and after-school clubs and eliminate advanced placement classes. This is not a statement that we should be making,” said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. “Cutting schools will make our state less attractive to business and investment.”
Get information about state taxes and the budget from Michigan government at this link.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.