State lawmakers have begun their two-week spring break, but many of them say they will still be in Lansing working on budget issues. That includes negotiating with Governor Rick Snyder on tax reforms.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says he expects lawmakers to meet Governor Snyder’s May 31st deadline to complete work on the budget.
“Any time that we waste right now adds time on the back end, and we really owe all the constituencies who depend on state an answer before we get to the same type of timeframe that we’ve dealt with in the past. So, it’s not really fair to put these things off until fall or even late summer.”
Snyder has proposed a tax on pensions, a new corporate income tax to replace the Michigan Business Tax, and scaling back tax credits.
Calley told lawmakers that if they don’t like Snyder’s plan, they need to put something else on the table that will help end the budget deficit.
Republicans in the Senate are expected to unveil a plan that includes an expanded corporate income tax, and to hold off on taxing pensions.
The facility houses about a thousand mainly older inmates, many with serious health problems. Those inmates will be sent to other prisons around the state.
John Cordell is the state Corrections Department spokesman. He says the state will be careful when placing these inmates in other facilities.
“We don’t want to place prisoners in a situation where…they have a pressing health care need, but the health care provider is a hundred miles away, every time we have to take them back and forth. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The Coldwater prison will not be the only state prison closing this summer. The Muskegon Correctional facility is also scheduled to close in June. Cordell says the state doesn’t need the two prisons anymore.
“We expect that by June first we’ll have well over a thousand beds that are empty within the system. So we can identify this prison. Close it. Place those prisoners within the beds in the system and we’ll still have some cushion.”
Michigan’s prison inmate population has declined from a high of 51,000 in 2007 to just under 44,000 today.
The Daily Reporter in Coldwater notes that Michigan's Corrections Department has been cutting back for some time:
In 2009, to save more than $118 million, Gov. Jennifer Granholm closed three prisons and five camps. They were the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, along with prisons in Muskegon and Kincheloe. In addition, the state closed camps in Shingleton, Painesdale, Iron River, Grayling and White Lake. The cuts impacted more than 1,000 state employees. Although there was much talk, there were no closures last year.
As part of a plan to save nearly $21 million, the Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state. Closings include posts in Adrian, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bridgeport, Bridgman, Cheboygan, Corunna, Detroit, Gladwin, Groveland, Hastings, Iron River, Ithaca, L'Anse, Manistee, Munising, Newaygo, Richmond, Stephenson, Traverse City and Ypsilanti. The Associated Press reports:
The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced his intention to close posts last month but gave few details. The severity of the plan shocked some: No troopers will be laid off, but come October, the number of posts will fall from 62 to 29, as 12 posts will be downgraded to detachments that are closed to the public but open to troopers for administrative work.
The move is one of the biggest changes in years to a system of policing that has remained virtually unchanged for seven decades. And it's got some worried if troopers can adequately cover larger areas...The plan is designed to save about $3.2 million to help the department offset a $20.7 million shortfall to its $521.5 million budget. Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement that troopers will continue to patrol roads and assist communities at the same level they have in the past.
Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon says she hopes lawmakers listen to the concerns of students who show up to protest at the Capitol. She says student voices still matter, even if the movement does not sway lawmakers in the Republican-led Legislature.
“What happens today, what happens in whether or not all these changes actually balance a budget and move to prosperity will affect their lives forever."
Simon says this is a great time for students to be a part of the democratic process, and learn as much from real life experience as they could in the classroom. She told lawmakers that most students surveyed at MSU say they want to live in Michigan after they graduate. But, she says, fewer than half think they will be able to stay and find jobs in the state.
The Flint school board sent lay-off notices to almost all of their superintendents, principals, and other administrators, according to the Flint Journal. Linda Thompson, the paper said, was the only administrator who did not receive a notice.
The move comes as the district wrestles with projected revenues of $20 million to $25 million less than projected expenditures for the 2011-12 school year.
The measure is something of a technicality, a precaution that allows the district flexibility when the time comes to decide how many administrators will stay on board, said Thompson.
Thompson said its hard to predict when the district will know precisely what it's revenues for next year will be and how many administrators will be called back.
"When are they going to settle what's happening at the state level?" she asked.
School districts across the state are anxiously awaiting state budget decisions in Lansing.
In the past few years, the districts have had to make fiscal decisions with no firm guidance from legislators in Lansing while they haggled over the state's budget well past fiscal planning deadlines.
Governor Rick Snyder hopes to change that. He's set a deadline of May 31st for legislators to settle on the budget.
The Flint Journal reports on cuts expected, "Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget includes a $300 per-pupil cut to school aid that comes on top of an already-planned $170 cut. Factoring in an expected rise in rates schools pay to a state retirement pool and districts across Michigan are expecting $700 less per student next year."
The governor’s made some decisions that are wildly unpopular. Unions are upset. Taxpayers are upset. His own party isn’t too sure he is right.
Behind closed doors, leaders of the opposition party are rubbing their hands in glee. They think they know a one-term governor when they see one.
That’s what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, to be sure, and also, to a lesser extent, in Lansing. Democrats are convinced that if Governor Snyder indeed manages to tax pensions, cut education, and end the Earned Income Tax Credit, he’ll be toast.
It was only a few months ago that Republican Rick Snyder and the majority Republican legislature were voted into office. Snyder said on the campaign trail that he wanted to change the way state government works.
He promised to “re-invent” Michigan. People liked the sound of that.
As he’s revealed the path to his vision of Michigan, not everyone is pleased.
(sound of protestors in capitol)
Union members, Democrats, public employees, retirees and the poor have been holding rallies at the capitol about as often as the legislature meets in Lansing.
A spokesperson from the Governor’s office responded via email with the following:
"The proposed budget and tax plan is based on fairness and preserving core safety net services – while improving and strengthening our economy so ALL can prosper and benefit."
A handful of people gathered in Ann Arbor on Monday to speak against Governor Snyder’s proposed budget for an event organized by Progress Michigan, a progressive organization. The speakers included union representatives, city officials, and individuals.
Lois Richardson is Mayor Pro-Tem of Ypsilanti and voiced criticism of the budget. She says cuts to revenue sharing and historic tax credits will devastate Ypsilanti and other cities. Richardson says the changes will affect everyone in the state of Michigan, not just those who relied directly on the funding.
Brit Satchwell is the President of the Ann Arbor teacher’s union. He says students will feel the cuts the most:
“I’m a sixth grade math teacher and I’m here to tell you, the kids don’t get a makeover year. You don’t get to do sixth grade again because the adults messed it up.”
Satchwell also said school districts like Ann Arbor have already been cutting their budgets for the past few years.
This was one of several events held across the state in preparation for a protest scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol.
The state's prison system is in line for some budget cuts like a lot of other parts of the state government.
Now, a recent audit says the prison system could save more in prescription costs.
From the Associated Press:
DETROIT (AP) - State auditors say Michigan could have saved millions of dollars by choosing lower-cost alternatives to a mental-health drug that is widely prescribed in prisons.
The audit released Friday says psychotropic drugs are dominating the cost of prescriptions in the prison system. They added up to more than $8 million from January through July last year - 41 percent of all pharmaceuticals.
Seroquel is the most prescribed antipsychotic drug. Auditors say the Corrections Department could have saved $350,000 a month by switching just half of those prescriptions to a drug called Risperdal.
The Corrections Department says it's taking steps to control costs. The audit also found that prisoners are not being charged for over-the-counter medicine even if they can afford it.
The recent debates about school funding and public employee benefits have teachers in Michigan feeling defensive. South Lyon East High School Social Studies teacher Keith Kindred has these thoughts:
Last year about this time, I did a commentary for Michigan Radio describing the copious amount of time I had to think while I proctored state proficiency exams given to high school juniors. You may remember I used much of that time to reflect on all the wrath being directed at teachers.
Recent events in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even here in Michigan suggest I may have been prescient in recognizing how severe the disconnect between teachers and the public had become, but they also prove that my plea fell on deaf ears. Clearly, the anger I observed a year ago was but a preview and, moreover, my attempt to plead for both common sense and common ground was a failure.
So in the spirit of perseverance that all good teachers instill in their students, I want to try again.
Governor Rick Snyder spoke to the Michigan Association of Broadcasters' Great Lakes Broadcasting Conference and Expo in Lansing this morning. As the Associated Press reports, the Governor continued to defend his idea for reinvesting the state:
...Snyder says Michigan citizens need to think about what's best for everyone rather than just themselves if the state is to reinvent itself.
...the Republican governor defended his nearly $2 billion in business tax cuts and the income tax changes he wants to make to offset that, including a tax on pensions.
He says people naturally object to changes that will affect their bottom line. But he believes "we are at a 'we' moment, and we can do this."
Snyder has been criticized for proposing deep cuts to public education, universities and local governments at the same time he's slashing business taxes and asking for people to pay more in income taxes.
"I find it less than honest that you would portray the cut as 15 percent, and call additional money an 'incentive' if you keep tuition less than 7.1 percent. It's clearly less than transparent in the way it's been presented."
Governor Snyder's spokesperson said the proposed cuts were portrayed clearly.
To keep their cuts at 15%, universities have to agree to keep their annual tuition hikes under 7.1%.
If they don't, cuts in state aid could be greater than 15%.
The cuts proposed for the 15 public universities in the state average 21%, according to the article.
Some of the specific proposed cuts mentioned in the piece (cuts if universities don't hold tuition increases under 7.1%):
23.3% for Central Michigan University
19% for Eastern Michigan University
21.9% for Grand Valley State University
Some university officials said "they will try to hold tuition increases under the 7.1 percent cap, although they can't be sure until their boards begin approving next year's budgets in June or July."
According to the article, the largest cut universities have seen in the last 32 years was 8.5%.
Two plus two equals four. Simple, right? That’s math even a journalist can understand. Unfortunately, the legislature and a large section of the general public doesn’t quite seem to get it.
State government is currently on course to run a huge deficit for the next fiscal year. State budget deficits are illegal, under Michigan’s Constitution. That budget has to be balanced by September 30.
Four months ago, we elected a ton of Republicans to the legislature who pledged they wouldn’t vote for any new taxes, no matter what. We elected a Republican governor who said he was going to deeply cut taxes on business, because he believed that was the only way to attract new jobs and industry to this state.
So we voted for no new taxes of any kind, less taxes on business, and we‘ve got a big budget deficit to start. And now we are shocked, shocked, that the governor is insisting on making huge cuts in state spending.
Well, we shouldn‘t be.
We voted for this. And, we tolerated the last governor, and several different past legislatures, refusing to deal with our problems. We put things off till we couldn‘t do it any more.
And now, we have to fix it. What‘s worse, we have to do this when we are still mired in the effects of the worst recession since World War II. Yes, I know the recession is officially over.
The economists say so, anyway. But hard times are not even close to over in Michigan. The auto industry is never coming back the way it was, and we need a new economy.
The rally was the brainchild of AARP member and retiree Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, who launched the effort on Facebook with the help of her daughter. Woodward says she's heard from thousands of seniors who say new taxes on their pensions and other income will make it difficult to pay their bills. Many also object to elimination of a tax credit for low-income working families, and proposed cuts to schools, universities and local police and fire protection and road maintenance.
Michigan legislators are planning to discuss alternatives to Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposals this week.
One hot button issue is Snyder's plan to place a tax on pensions. That tax is estimated to raise $900 million.
It would go a long way in eliminating the state's budget deficit which is estimated around $1.5 billion.
It's angered a lot of seniors, and lobbying groups, like the AARP, are putting pressure on legislators in Lansing to keep the tax exemption on pensions in place (the AARP plans to hold a rally in Lansing on March 15th).
Laura Weber, with the Michigan Public Radio Network reported that Michigan Senate Republicans are meeting early this week to try to come up with alternatives to the pension tax plan.
Weber spoke with Republican State Senator Tory Rocca who said his opposition to taxing pensions is simple:
"It’s a tax increase, and on top of that it’s a tax increase on senior citizens, and if you look at what their cost of living is and what their cost of living increases are, they tend to have a higher cost-of-living increase than other people because a lot of their cost-of-living is weighted toward health care, which does increase at a rate greater than the rate of inflation every year."
The Associated Press reports that State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville didn't say whether Snyder's pension tax plan had enough support to win approval.
But he did say that if legislators want to scrap the tax plan, they'll have to find money elsewhere. From the AP:
Richardville said that if the Senate opposes pieces of Snyder's proposal they will have to balance it out by cutting programs or finding revenues somewhere else within the budget.
That's $900 million more, which could mean more proposals out of Lansing for bigger cuts.
When he presented his budget to the legislature, Governor Snyder explained part of the shared sacrifice would be taxing public and private pensions. There is no state income tax on pensions right now. The Governor noted, retirees still use government services. He also said there are some retirees who are still working, paying the current 4.35% in state income taxes. He said taxing pensions is a matter of fairness to people of retirement age who are still working.
Several university presidents visited the state Capitol to testify on the higher education budget.
Governor Rick Snyder has called for double-digit cuts to universities, but he says universities can recoup some of that if they find innovative ways to save taxpayers money.
Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, told lawmakers that universities have limited options when it comes to funding.
He says keeping tuition rates low also helps makes college more accessible to low-income students:
"Please remember there is a direct relationship between state aid and tuition. When there is more of one, we need less of the other," said Haas.
"In the long run, the best way for you to hold down tuition is to put all you can into higher education appropriations, permitting us to find financial aid for our neediest students."
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said higher education institutions understand the budget challenges the state faces, but she also could not promise to keep down tuition increases if there are big cuts in state aid to universities.
Lt. Governor Brian Calley is detailing the Snyder Administration's tax plans to members of the House Tax Policy committee at the Capitol, the Associated Press reports. And, as the AP notes, Budget Director John Nixon answered questions this morning from members of the House Appropriations Committee:
Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is trying to shore up support for some of its budget proposals that are running into opposition in the Michigan Legislature... The Republican governor's plan to eliminate tax exemptions on pensions is drawing opposition from some members of his own party.
Lawmakers also are concerned about proposed cuts to education funding and proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments made to local governments.
Lawmakers at the state Capitol are set to hear details today about Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal.
Legislative committees are scheduled to hear details about Snyder's tax restructuring plan, the Associated Press reports.
From the AP:
Lawmakers also will hear testimony from some university officials, including from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Universities could lose at least 15 percent of their state aid going into next fiscal year.
Groups concerned about proposed cuts to tax revenue sharing payments also are expected to testify. Snyder and lawmakers are trying to eliminate a projected budget shortfall of roughly $1.4 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.
Budget cuts approved by the U.S. House of Representatives would close Michigan Works service centers.
The service centers are where people go to file for unemployment and can get training, education or use the Michigan Talent Bank.
The U.S. House budget proposal eliminates the federal funding that supports the centers.
Luanne Dunsford is the CEO of Michigan Works.
"If the house resolution goes through the funding for Michigan Works would be eliminated. The Michigan Works system serves over 3 million customers a year and our question is, where would those people go?
The U.S. House and the Senate are now negotiating budget proposals to decide the fate of several federal programs, including the Workforce Reinvestment Act which funds Michigan Works.
We want to get a better understanding of the kinds of services offered by Michigan Works. If you've used Michigan Works, what services did you use and what did you think of them?
Governor Rick Snyder is defending some of his controversial budget plans.
He says taxing pensions is the right thing to do, even though some Republican lawmakers say they will not support that plan.
And Governor Snyder says his proposal to cut funding for universities by 15% this year is necessary, but he says it will get better for the schools in the future:
"We shouldn't have to walk away from our universities. Again, I'm a big, long-term advocate of we need more students going through our universities. Higher Ed is very important in our state, actually we're a very fortunate state in having the high-quality institutions that we have.
We have a tough budget situation and we need to deal with that, but if you look forward to 2013 we’re able to show that hopefully this is the bottom point in terms of where we go with higher education funding."
Snyder also told building-trade union members that he wants to work with unions to help balance the budget, not against them.
He says he is not interested in Republican proposals in the Legislature to strip unions of their power.
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says she's cosponsoring legislation that will stop member of Congress and the President from getting paid if there's a government shutdown.
The legislation was originally introduced last week by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Seantor Bob Casey (D-PA).
In a statement, the Senator said that under current law the salaries for members of Congress and the President are "held harmless" if a shutdown occurs - meaning they would continue to be paid.
Stabenow says the bill she's cosponsoring would put Congress and the President on "equal footing" with the Americans who would be affected by a shutdown:
"A shutdown could disrupt Social Security checks, veterans' benefits, hold up exports and cost private sector jobs, and will stop paychecks for hundreds of thousands of people. It's only fair that Members of Congress' paychecks be stopped too."
The statement said the last time the government in 1995, "more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed," Social Security and Medicare requests were delayed, passports remained unprocessed, unemployment insurance funding ran out in some states, and "$3 billion in U.S. exports were delayed because export licenses could not be issued, negatively impacting economic growth."
The deadline for a deal is this Friday night. If a deal can't be reached, the government would be forced to shut down.
ABC News reports that Congress might postpone the deadline by "passing a two-week spending measure that would fund the government through March 18th."
Predicting the future can be a dangerous thing. When I was a child in the early nineteen-sixties, I used to watch a television show that predicted how we’d live in the far-off world of 2000.
By then, I was told, our homes would be heated by mini-nuclear power plants in the basement and we’d take our private helicopters to work. Nobody, however, saw the coming of the Internet.
Futurologists have gotten somewhat more cautious since then, but there is something most of them do agree on, which is that days are numbered for libraries as we have known them. Printed products have been moving rapidly to servers and Kindles. While most are still published on paper, this is widely seen as a temporary measure which will last only as long as it takes the old fuddy-duddies to die off.
And priorities are shifting. Last week, the Detroit Public Library announced the layoff of a fifth of their entire staff, or eighty-three employees, at the end of March. The far more affluent suburb of Troy has already voted to close its library. Other libraries across the state are threatened with huge cuts or extinction.
The economy is bad, but why do we feel that we can live without libraries? Here’s what one reader posted on the Detroit Free Press website, spelling several words wrong in the process: “Library’s are fast becoming a thing of the past due to rapid access and information that can be had via the Internet.”
Or, in other words, why would we possibly need a place where books are kept and stored when we’ve got Google? Those who defend libraries mainly do so on the grounds that everybody doesn‘t have a computer at home. The newspaper‘s story about the layoffs talked about all the poor people who come to the library to print resumes and scan the internet for job openings.
Governor Rick Snyder is not a “politician.” He would tell you that himself. I first heard he wasn’t a politician from a bunch of political reporters more than a year ago, who felt he was wasting his money on what they felt was a catchy, but ultimately silly commercial.
This was, of course, the famous “tough nerd” commercial that first aired during last year’s Superbowl. Tim Skubick, the dean of, Lansing political reporters, thought it was likely to backfire.
This is a tough, blue-collar state, he said. Not a place where people voted for guys who called themselves “nerds.”
I didn’t know what to make of all this myself, till I saw Snyder skillfully and with scalpel-like precision, separate himself from the rest of the pack during the primary campaign. Like a veteran racehorse he ran third much of the way, then shot ahead in the final stretch, winning by nine lengths and a hundred thousand votes.
The general election wasn’t even a contest. But there was a lot of skepticism as to how the new governor would actually do with the hurly-burly of governing.
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling spent much of last night address talking about what’s working in his city. But he also talked about what he thinks would help the city deal with a growing budget deficit, ‘shrinking the size of city hall.’ Walling wants to drop funding for some city commissions and eliminate some executive positions.
"My proposed changes would save the city of Flint $6 million over 4 years. Over $15 million dollars over 10 years. Its not the whole solution. But its an important part of it. Its an important part that makes a difference."
The city of Flint wants to cover its $17 million budget deficit by raising funds on the bond market.
It has to get permission from the State Administration Board to do that. So far, the Board has tabled its decision.
If the city can't raise bond money, it might be facing bankruptcy or a state takeover.
You can start by adding $1.2 billion to the state's budget woes by cutting business taxes, or you can leave business taxes alone and deal with the current budget hole the Center estimates at $1.4 billion.
Once you start, your options are to cut, cut, cut (cuts to education, cuts general government, cuts to prison and police, cuts to the public workforce, and cuts to welfare and health care) - or - you could raise taxes.
So far, of the 300 or so people who have participated - raising the Beer Tax is the most popular option.