Early in my career, I heard a state legislator say that on a critical tax bill he had received two constituent letters for it and two against, and he was tired of being “whipsawed” on the issue. The message, while made partly in jest, has always stayed with me. Many legislators hear very little from their constituents directly, and when they do, they take note.
One of the most essential legislative tasks needing constituent input is the state budget. The budget reflects the Legislature’s values and priorities, and it is critical that it addresses the needs of all constituents—including low- and moderate-income families and their children. To that end, throughout the budget process the League provides information to policymakers and communities.
This year, lawmakers are moving quickly to finalize the 2017 state budget with the goal of putting it on the governor’s desk by the end of May (the budget takes effect in October of this year). Most state department budgets will be approved by both the House and Senate by the end of next week. In the middle of May, state budget experts will meet with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to make final estimates on the amount of tax revenue that will be available next year, and those figures will guide the final joint House/Senate conference committees working out differences in the budgets approved by each body.
There is much at stake for Michiganians as state lawmakers craft a final 2017 budget.
Health and human services: Investments in Flint continue to be critical and to date both the House and Senate have adopted the governor’s proposal for just over $15 million in the Department of Health and Human Services for nutritional services, child and adolescent health centers, community mental health, and lead investigations and abatement. Still to be decided is the legislative response to the governor’s proposal to expand the clothing allowance for children receiving public assistance and boost funding for family preservation programs for children in the state’s foster care system (both reduced by the House and Senate).
On a positive note, both the House and Senate agree to complete the expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program statewide next year, and the Senate includes $23 million to address the shortage of dentists for adults with Medicaid coverage—a longstanding problem that has landed many Medicaid patients in emergency rooms and created barriers to employment.
Education: While there is agreement on general spending per-pupil, there is work left undone related to the Detroit Public Schools as well as a number of much-needed investments supported by the League including the expansion of child care eligibility from 121% to 150% of poverty, full funding for students at risk of educational failure, and an increase in the grossly-underfunded adult education system in Michigan.
Corrections: The League supports increased funding for reentry programs that can help return prisoners successfully to their communities and families. Over the past 30 years, Michigan’s prison population has grown dramatically and the state now spends more of its General Fund on corrections than it does on higher education.
Serious decisions will be made in the next six weeks that affect low-income children and families, persons with disabilities and Michigan’s aging population. The League will continue to provide you with information about the issues under debate, and we hope that you will do your part by contacting your legislators about the issues that affect your community and the state as a whole.
— Pat Sorenson