Budget Update from Capitol Services
The budget impasse between the Legislature and the Governor regarding the future of the school pension system continues into June. Previous years have seen the appropriations process completed by early June, but continuing debate over whether or not to close the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System has bogged down the process this year. Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof has even threatened to hold up the budget process completely unless Governor Snyder drops his opposition to closing MPSERS. The Governor and Legislative leaders are meeting again today in an effort to come to some compromise.
Conference Committee OKs $10M Cut To Prison Operations
State prisons would see a $10 million cut to their operations under the 2017-18 fiscal year budget approved today by a House-Senate conference committee. While that is considerably less than the $41.6 million reduction the Senate passed and prompted a furious response from the Department of Corrections with Director Heidi Washington warning of compromising safety in prisons, it still is a reduction and one Governor Snyder did not propose.
The House did not cut the prison facilities operations line when it passed the budget. It is probably in this budget where House and Senate Republicans’ decision to move ahead on the budget without Mr. Snyder’s input could raise some of the biggest problems between the administration and the Legislature. Each prison would see the equivalent of a 0.99 percent cut or an average of $357,143, according to the House Fiscal Agency.
Some areas where the Senate denied funding were restored in the conference report on SB 144, like the $4.4 million Mr. Snyder requested to train 177 new corrections officers.
The conference report does not include the $1.5 million Mr. Snyder requested to expand the Wayne Residential Alternative to Prison program to 13 counties in western Michigan. It includes the $3 million the Senate wanted for a new online career high school education pilot program that the department dismissed as a diploma mill and a far weaker alternative to the vocational village programs it says has been proven to work.
Another controversial item, the Senate’s proposal to include $4.4 million toward a future new prison, was retained but reduced to $1 million. The idea is that the state could purchase the privately owned prison in Baldwin or reopen the closed state prison in Standish. Corrections officials have expressed bafflement at the funding, saying it would cost far more to bring those facilities up to current standards, let alone the $100 million to buy the facility in Baldwin.
The conference committee approved the bill on a 5-1 vote.
Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz told reporters after the meeting that the department was just getting its first look at the budget and would need to review it further. He said it was an improvement over the Senate version, but the department would have to analyze how it would handle the $10 million cut, and he voiced concern about the decision not to expand the prison alternative program yet add $3 million for the online career high school pilot program he said has shown to be extremely weak.
Meanwhile, other legislative budget conference committees are beginning to report out final versions of various departmental budgets based on targets set by Senator Meekhof and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard. These targets are approximately $475 million below the spending recommended by Governor Snyder and reflect a number of reductions to state budgets.
The Department of Health and Human Services Department budget – the largest in the state – is expected to be reported out by the conference committee today or tomorrow.