Snyder’s budget: Nearly $14B for schools, $50M for Flint

Gov. Rick Snyder presents budget recommendation on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017 in Lansing.

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday proposed a $56 billion state budget that would include modest spending boosts for education, increased savings and directing nearly $50 million more toward Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis.

Under the proposed budget, K-12 education would get $12.3 billion and $1.5 billion would go to higher education. K-12 school districts would receive between $50 and $100 more per pupil, plus an additional $50 for each high school student. Although it costs more to educate high school students than it does educating younger pupils, the state previously has not provided such extra funding.

The $56.3 billion 2017-18 spending plan is 2.5 percent more than in the current fiscal year.

Snyder told lawmakers his budget prioritizes spending on skilled trades training, education, infrastructure and long-term retirement liabilities. He proposed expanding the definition of at-risk students so districts can receive additional state aid.

“It’s about taking care of the people of Michigan,” he said.

The $48.8 million Flint allotment would bring the total state commitment to resolve the man-made water emergency to about $300 million. Snyder wants to hire another 100 state police troopers, which would bring the number of enlisted officers to its highest level in 16 years.

The biggest chunk of spending — 45 percent — is for health and human services programs, which include the federal money for Medicare and Medicaid.

While Republicans who control the Legislature want an income tax cut, the GOP governor called for depositing $260 million in Michigan’s savings account to increase the rainy day fund to $1 billion. It would be the largest deposit since Snyder’s first year in office, when the fund had just $2 million.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley pointed to tax and fee reductions already made under Snyder’s watch. They include business tax overhauls, a cut for people who trade in their car or boat for a new one, a pending break for some homeowners and renters, and the elimination of extra “driver responsibility” fees imposed on people driving without insurance or proof of insurance.

Republicans have expressed frustration that they have not enacted a broad-based cut for individuals, though, despite controlling state government for six years.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Republican, said he will push to reduce the 4.25 percent income tax to 3.9 percent — where it was supposed to eventually return to under a 2007 budget deal that Snyder and GOP legislators later amended in 2011.

“It is well past time to give the people of Michigan the tax relief they deserve,” he said in a statement.

A better economy and six years of experience have turned Michigan’s once painful budget process into something routine.

“If you look at it, there’s been tremendous progress in this state,” Snyder said. “We should be proud but we shouldn’t be complacent not content. We can do even better and we need to stay focused on it and get the job done.”

The joint session of the Senate and House Appropriations committees at which the budget was proposed was devoid of drama — and in fact, there was some agreement on some bipartisan issues. One of those issues was housing costs, which Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, brought up.

“My district has a lot of poverty and so I am really concerned about housing costs in Grand Rapids,” LaGrand, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, told 24 Hour News 8 moments before the governor rolled out his budget. “I would love to see some of the budget surplus being directed into some income relief for working families who have housing costs they have to meet.”

During a question-and-answer session later, Budget Director Al Pscholka, the governor’s point person on spending, said he would like to work with LaGrand on that idea without committing any of the surplus.

Sen. Geoff Hansen, a longtime budget member, said that at first glance, he liked what he saw.

“This looks like a great budget,” said the Republican from Hart. “Some of the things he touched on like the added at-risk funding, Different things through the schools. I’ve got to get through it yet — it’s a pretty big budget to digest — but I see some good things. We may have to do a little tweaking.”

That “tweaking” will take place over the next few months. The final budget should be ready in late May or early June.