(TNS) — Michigan lawmakers signed off on a $62.75 billion state budget deal Wednesday afternoon, avoiding the severe cuts many worried might be necessary at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a boost from federal funding.
Two bills representing the state’s education and general operating budgets were made public Wednesday passed along wide bipartisan margins in both the state House and Senate just hours later. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicated she’d sign them in a Wednesday evening statement.
“When we started the budget process in early February, nobody had an idea of how challenging the coming months would be, no knowledge of the devasting impacts that COVID-19 would have, including the impact to our state budget,” Whitmer said in the statement. “But Michigan is strong, and by working collaboratively with our partners in the Legislature we now have a budget I will soon be signing, a budget that funds shared priorities that will move Michigan forward.”
Under the deal, Michigan’s education budget for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities includes about $17.65 billion, with the School Aid Fund budget coming in at roughly $15.5 billion. The general government budget includes about $45.1 billion to fund other state agencies and programs. Unlike previous budget cycles, negotiations were conducted almost completely behind closed doors, and lawmakers skipped the typical process of offering up separate House and Senate budget proposals.
Instead, legislative leaders and the Whitmer administration reached an agreement on the framework in advance and only released the details publicly on the same day the plan passed both chambers.
The process itself was nearly a complete 180 from how last year’s budget cycle played out. In 2019, the Whitmer administration and Republican legislative leaders publicly argued over how best to spend state tax dollars for months, culminating in a standoff that dragged into December.
“I’ve been through many budget processes in my time here in the Senate, and this was by far the most collaborative process I’ve been part of,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing. “This budget is an amazing achievement in the sense that I don’t think anyone three months ago would have thought that we could have gotten here.”
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in budget negotiations after economic experts initially predicted declines in sales and income tax revenue could blow a multibillion-dollar hole in next year’s budget, which begins Oct. 1.
Ultimately, better-than-expected sales tax revenues and the initial wave of federal aid from the CARES Act meant the state’s budget situation was in relatively decent shape, although lawmakers acknowledged it’d be a different story without help from the federal government.
“I want to point out very solemnly how much of this is because of borrowed federal money,” Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee for K-12 education. “We’re not here because of ourselves, we’re not here because we got lucky.”
In all, the plan trimmed about $250 million from the budget, including savings from a planned closure of the Detroit Reentry Center run by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
That closure earned the plan one of the few dissenting votes in the Michigan House from Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods, who said she was disappointed in Whitmer and the legislature for not considering the potential issues closing the facility would cause the community.
“The city of Detroit has supported this governor...this is not the first time that she has not returned the favor,” she said.
The final version of the education budget, which is slightly up from last fiscal year and includes a one-time $65 per-pupil increase for K-12 schools, includes funding for special education spending, at-risk students and mental health funding, as well as money for teacher hazard pay and incentives for first-year teachers to stay in Michigan.
Funding for universities and community colleges will remain at the same levels as the previous fiscal year under the deal.
In the general operating budget, the Whitmer administration and legislature agreed to fund the governor’s Michigan Reconnect proposal at $30 million to offer adults financial assistance to attend community college, $28.7 million for the Going Pro initiative to help businesses recruit students, $12.6 million for the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program assisting pregnant women and $15 million for the state’s Pure Michigan campaign. The budget also includes $14.3 million for funding expanded access to broadband internet around the state.
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