House, Senate panels OK budgets for government, schools

LANSING — What do agriculture expansion, the Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs, skilled trades training and Asian carp  have in common?

They’re all included in one of the versions of the $54.9-billion state budget that the House and Senate are expected to begin voting on this week  with a target for final approval by June 1.

The House and Senate appropriations committees passed out their versions of the state budget last week, and in some cases deviated from what Gov. Rick Snyder proposed in February. Once the full House and Senate vote on their versions, a conference committee will be formed to iron out any differences.

“There are a lot of programs that will help a lot of families,” said state Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, who predicted the overall budget will get wide bipartisan support. “Do you not vote the whole budget out because you don’t like a couple of things?”

Both Sen. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, said they were proud that the House version held the line on spending in the state to lower than the rate of inflation.

“We’ve kept spending well below the rate of inflation and we were able to prioritize spending,” Hildenbrand said. “Public education is getting a significant increase, as well as higher ed and community colleges. And we continue our commitment to the City of Flint.”

But state Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said he’s frustrated that Republicans didn’t accept amendments that would have improved transparency in state government, as well as studies of how the state can better provide funding for local communities.

“We’ve balanced the budget of this state on the backs of these local communities, and we need to look at how we go back into reinvesting into communities,” he said.

The two biggest financial challenges in the state — the Flint water crisis and the Detroit Public Schools — still are unresolved. The Senate is considering a $148.8-million supplemental bill for Flint that Snyder had included in his budget proposal, which would get the money for education, nutrition and lead pipe improvement and replacement to the city sooner. The House has included some of the Flint money in its overall budget.

As for the Detroit Public Schools, the House included $72 million from tobacco settlement money for DPS. But  the Senate is waiting for the policy bills it passed in March to clear the House before it figures out where the money for DPS will come from.

Other items in the budget, which may or may not end up in the final version

An increase in the per-pupil foundation allowance ranging from $60 to $120 per student. But the House plan eliminates the MStep proficiency tests for K-12 students and contemplates charging students for taking college entrance exams. Neither Snyder nor the Senate has included language that would eliminate the MStep exam or the fees for the SAT exam. The higher education and community colleges budgets were increased, ranging from 3.7% to 4.8%.

$2 million for a grant program to study the expansion and sustainability of agriculture, mining, forestry, oil and gas exploration and tourism.

$8.5 million to train 350 more corrections officers for the state’s prisons, $1.9 million for mental health and sexual offender treatment for prisoners, and $981,300 for 1,400 bulletproof vests for parole and probation officers. The Senate budget includes a reduction of $46.9 million to close two prisons that haven’t yet been named. The House version of the budget only includes continued savings from the closure of the Kinross Correctional facility in the Upper Peninsula that began last year.

The House version of the budget includes cutting travel expenses for the state Board of Education because of a policy the board is considering to create a safe school environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Neither Snyder nor the Senate has included those cuts.

$9 million to conduct lead testing on water systems in all public and private K-12 schools.

$125,000 for a program to improve relations between the police and residents in Battle Creek, Traverse City and Muskegon Heights. Snyder had requested $250,000.

$100,000 for the Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs.

$10 million toward replacing the voting machines being used across the state. The new machines could be in place by next year.

Some reductions in revenue sharing to townships proposed by Snyder were restored by the House and made less drastic by the Senate. A program proposed by Snyder to provide grants to communities that consolidate services was cut in half by the House and eliminated by the Senate.

A $10-million increase for skilled trades training was proposed by Snyder, retained by the Senate, but cut in half by the House.

Snyder proposed increasing the clothing allowance for kids on state assistance from $140 to $200 per year. The House concurred, but the Senate kept the allowance at $140.

Foster care parents would get a bump in the rates they receive, increasing to $29,400 per year from $27,877. Nurses who help Medicaid beneficiaries — and who haven’t gotten a raise for a couple of decades — would get a 10% bump.

$850,000 for a prescription drug abuse prevention study for Western Michigan University.

$5 million to renovate the fourth floor of the Grand Rapids Veterans Home, which has been slammed by a state audit for substandard care since the staff was privatized at the home. The budget includes adding an ombudsmen to hear and investigate complaints at veterans homes.

$1 million to fight the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.

$16 million for two trooper schools to train 164 new Michigan State Police troopers, and $400,000 for the Michigan State Police to provide traffic control at the Michigan International Speedway. Snyder had proposed eliminating the $813,900 subsidy entirely.

$150,000 for services to the deaf and hard of hearing.

$500,000 for education, treatment and prevention of the Zika virus.

$3.15 million in home heating assistance that will allow more federal food stamp money to come into the state.

What’s not in the budget

The Urban Initiatives program, which provided help with issues surrounding transportation, land use, housing and work force development in urban areas; along with the Michigan Conservation Corps, which provides summer jobs for at-risk youths and returning veterans, were both eliminated.

Amendments that would have prevented any state money from going to the criminal defense of state employees, including  Snyder, failed; as well as several amendments that would prohibit deals like the one that has the state Senate moving to new offices.

avatar

Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply