Snyder budget: More for schools, roads; end to food contract

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday proposed boosting base funding for most of Michigan’s public schools by the largest amount in 17 years, spending more on road repairs than planned and ending the use of a company to feed state prisoners.

In his eighth and final budget presentation, Snyder asked lawmakers for a $240 per-pupil increase for school districts that get the minimum grant, which would amount to a 3.1 percent boost for more 75 percent of traditional districts and all charter schools. Higher-funded districts receiving the basic grant would get $120 more per student in the 2018-19 budget, a 1.4 percent increase.

Last week the Michigan Department of Corrections the West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon will close in March. The move will save nearly $19 million in the state budget. (Courtesy photo)

Last week the Michigan Department of Corrections the West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon will close in March. The move will save nearly $19 million in the state budget. (Courtesy photo)

“This is a significant increase and would close the equity gap between the high and low from the time we started (in office) by over 50 percent, which is very significant because we have many districts that are at the minimum,” Snyder said.

The Republican governor also proposed shifting $325 million in general funds to road and bridge work, more than double the $150 million that is called for under a 2015 transportation-funding deal that is gradually being phased in. And in a move that could spark opposition from GOP legislators, he announced that a contract with Trinity Food Services set to expire July 31 will not be extended, by mutual agreement.

“I believe it’s appropriate to say that the benefits of continuing on that path don’t outweigh costs, and that we should transition back to doing it in-house,” Snyder told members of the legislative budget committees at the Capitol building.

Trinity was hired in 2015 after the state ended a contract with Aramark Correctional Services after the company came under scrutiny for unapproved menu substitutions, worker misconduct and other issues. The state’s initial outsourcing in late 2013 led to the loss of 370 unionized state jobs, which were replaced by lower-paid private employees. The change would bring about 350 state workers back to prison kitchens, according to the Corrections Department.

At a time when Republicans and Democrats in the GOP-controlled Legislature are pushing for election-year tax cuts beyond what Snyder is comfortable with, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley — who is running to succeed the term-limited Snyder — pointed to $686 million in tax relief that already has been enacted for the 2018-19 fiscal year and said the general fund would stay flat under Snyder’s blueprint. The tax relief includes the continued phase-out of a tax on business equipment, an expanded homestead property tax break and a higher credit for people who trade in their car for a new one.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday proposed shifting $325 million in general funds to road and bridge work. (News Advocate File Photo)

Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday proposed shifting $325 million in general funds to road and bridge work. (News Advocate File Photo)

Also Wednesday, Snyder called for an additional $46 million to improve legal representation for low-income criminal defendants and another $26 million to respond to Flint’s water crisis — mainly to provide continued state funds for the replacement of lead service pipes. And he mentioned proposals he outlined last week to increase a fee for taking waste to landfills and create a new state fee on water customers. He said the moves are needed to pay for environmental cleanup and to improve water infrastructure.

His administration last week announced plans to close a Muskegon-area prison to save nearly $19 million in the budget.

Michigan’s minimum per-student funding is $7,631. A $240 increase would be the biggest since the 2001-02 fiscal year, when a $500 hike was enacted. The only other time the minimum amount was boosted by more than $200 since then was in the 2006-07 budget.

Democrats had a mixed reaction to Snyder’s call to boost spending on deteriorating roads and bridges.

Rep. Fred Durhal III of Detroit, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he was “very pleased” with it. But Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, of Flint, said Snyder’s budget “is an admission of failure on many fronts, particularly education and infrastructure. … It’s seven years late and many dollars short.”

Snyder’s plan also calls for adding a net 50 new state police troopers, training more than 350 corrections officers to fill vacancies and a 2 percent overall funding increase for the 15 public universities.

In coming months, legislators will next put their stamp on the blueprint, with a goal of enacting the spending plan in June — about four months before the start of the fiscal year.

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