Mich. Legislature Finishes Approving $49B Budget
LANSING (AP) - Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday finished sending Gov. Rick Snyder a $48.7 billion state budget, notable not just for what’s in it but also for what didn’t make the cut – his proposed $2.5 billion in new spending for road repairs and health insurance for low-income adults.
The Republican governor vowed to keep pushing the initiatives, but it’s becoming increasingly likely the GOP-led Legislature may not act before starting a summer break, if at all.
“I’m not really sure,” Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Monroe Republican, told reporters when asked if legislators could raise more revenue for road upkeep this month. “It’s possible that we could consider something late in the summer or early in the fall, too.”
Talks also will continue about whether and how to make 320,000 more adults eligible for Medicaid in January 2014 – which Snyder and Democrats say makes common sense but is dividing majority GOP lawmakers in part because it’s an expansion of government under the contentious federal health care law.
The Senate’s mostly party-line 24-14 passage of a $33.6 billion spending bill was the last legislative action needed before Snyder signs the budget as early as next week, less than four months before the fiscal year starts in October. The vote followed legislative approval last week of $15.1 billion in funding for K-12 schools, universities and community colleges, a 3 percent increase that also lets more poor children enroll in preschool.
The measure passed Tuesday does include an additional $350 million to fix deteriorating roads and bridges – a significant one-time expenditure due to higher-than-expected income tax collections but far short of the $1.2 billion a year that would be raised under Snyder’s stalled increase in gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. The entire budget is about 1 percent bigger than in the current year.
– Dental coverage is extended to 70,500 more Medicaid-eligible children in Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties. When the new budget kicks in Oct. 1, the Healthy Kids Dental program will be available in 78 of 83 counties in Michigan.
– State revenue-sharing payments for police, fire and other local services rise by 4 percent.
– The state will run a school to add 107 police troopers to the roads; train 400 new correctional officers and hire more conservation officers. An increase in hunting and fishing fees is assumed in the budget but has not been approved in separate legislation.
– Another $75 million is put into savings, bringing the rainy day fund to nearly $600 million. It was nearly empty when Snyder took office.
– The state is required to take private bids on prison clothing, prison stores and up to 1,750 prison beds. The Department of Human Services is spared from the loss of more than 1,000 positions as called for earlier by House Republicans. Agency leaders expect to trim some positions through attrition and a hiring freeze – not layoffs.
“I think this is the best budget I’ve been a part of. I really do,” said Richardville, saying it’s the third straight year the budget is done about four months before the fiscal year begins. “Six hundred million dollars now is in the savings account. We put more money toward education than we have in recent years, for sure.”
He said senators will not just “rubber-stamp” federal programs like Medicaid.
All 12 Democratic senators and two of 26 Republicans voted against the budget measure Tuesday.
Democrats criticized the GOP for balking at Medicaid expansion — which could cut Michigan’s number of uninsured in half by 2021 — and for pushing back against a set of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math that were adopted previously. The budget blocks the state from paying to implement Common Core State Standards unless the Legislature affirmatively authorizes moving ahead.
While proponents say the new standards will better prepare students, critics worry they will set a national curriculum for public schools rather than letting states decide what’d best for their students.
There was little dissent when the standards were adopted in 2010, but debate picked up steam this year. Democrats said Republicans are listening too much to tea party enthusiasts instead of Snyder and business leaders who support Medicaid expansion and Common Core standards.
“The most glaring omission is that failure to expand Medicaid to nearly a half-million low-income Michiganders who don’t have health care. That leaves our citizens out in the cold because of our failure to act,” said Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat.
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