The League staff is at full speed when the state budget is released each year. We sit through the budget hearings, read proposed budgets—some hundreds of pages long—line by line, analyze budget trends and consider balance sheets.
While our friends shake their heads and attribute our budget obsession to character flaws (however harmless) we know better. We jump into the budget with both feet because we understand that the decisions made by state lawmakers over the coming months will affect the state’s children, families and economy for years to come. The budget will determine whether Michigan has top schools, the water is safe enough to drink, the roads get fixed, and everyone has access to healthcare.
Gov. Whitmer released her first state budget on March 5, 2019. In it are details of her plan to address the state’s ongoing revenue problems and related disinvestments in core services. Her goals are clear:
- Fix the state’s roads and bridges.
- Ensure that all communities have clean, safe drinking water.
- Increase the percentage of Michigan adults that have the skills needed to work, including a postsecondary education.
- Make Michigan a leader in third-grade reading.
Michigan has had some dramatic failures in these areas in recent years. Our roads are some of the worst in the country; the Flint drinking water crisis became a national scandal and many schools, including those in Detroit, have had to shut down their drinking fountains; only 44% of Michigan’s workforce has some form of postsecondary education; and Michigan ranks near the bottom of states in terms of reading proficiency by third grade.
Why has Michigan been in a race to the bottom? State lawmakers have failed to address the obvious need for new revenues. The declining purchasing power of the state’s General Fund, a series of tax cuts for businesses, and increased tax breaks for special interests have resulted in revenues that fall short. Of great concern is that at $10.7 billion, the state’s General Fund is the same as it was 20 years ago—despite a more than 50% inflationary increase in costs.
Gov. Whitmer’s first budget addresses the need for revenues head-on, and it is time to open up that debate. The League supports new revenues, including a more progressive income tax, the taxation of some services and changes to the state’s business taxes. The League is also pleased to see that the governor proposed to mitigate the regressive nature of a gas tax increase with a partial restoration of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.
We understand that not everyone can obsess over the state budget as we do, but we hope that you will appreciate the importance of the decisions now pending before lawmakers and get engaged. Check out our First Look at Gov. Whitmer’s 2020 State Budget, follow our periodic updates during the budget process and contact your legislators.