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

Posted at 6:26 PM, Feb 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-07 18:26:46-05

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 than 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.

“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 being phased in. And in a move that could spark opposition from at least some 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 the costs, and that we should transition back to doing it in-house,” Snyder told members of the legislative budget committees at the Capitol building.

Florida-based 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. Director Heidi Washington said the “main challenge” with the existing contract was inadequate staffing levels.

The term-limited governor unveiled his budget blueprintat a time Republicans and Democrats in the GOP-controlled Legislature are pushing for election-year tax cuts beyond what Snyder has proposed to address an unintended consequence of the recently enacted federal tax overhaul. He pointed to $686 million in tax relief that already has been enacted for the 2018-19 fiscal year and noted that general fund spending would stay flat under his plan.

Still, when asked about his openness to enact a higher personal exemption than he called for last month, Snyder said “there’s room to go beyond where we originally proposed.”

Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard, of DeWitt, said the state has enough money to shift more to roads, forgive extra fees imposed on drivers for certain offenses, and cut taxes. He suggested transferring the additional $175 million for road and bridge repairs in the existing budget, so the improvements could be seen this year instead of in 2019.

“Get it out this spring, get it out this summer,” Leonard said of the funding.

Also Wednesday, Snyder called for spending $61 million to improve legal representation for low-income criminal defendants as required under a 2013 law 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 previously announced proposal to increase a fee for taking waste to landfills and to create a new state fee on water customers — which seem unlikely to gain legislative traction.

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.

Local government officials said Snyder did not propose enough funding for municipalities, and Democrats had a mixed reaction to his 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.”

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. As Snyder delivered his hour-long presentation, members of the Service Employees International Union loudly protested outside the hearing room, criticizing his policies and supporting higher wages.