In Blog: Factually Speaking

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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I hope you are all experiencing some type of spring “break,” whether it’s a full family vacation or just getting outside and enjoying the warmer weather. But the onset of spring means another season is upon us—budget season. That means that we have to get our rest and relaxation in now so that we’re energized and ready to get to work when legislators return to the Capitol on April 12th.

We are hearing that the full House Appropriations Committee will be taking up the education omnibus budget that covers funding for K12 schools, community colleges and higher education the first week back. The committee is expected to move the general government omnibus the following week, April 19th-21st. They are expected to move quickly, as are the Senate budgets.

Completing a budget in early summer has been a goal for recent Legislatures, and one they have been succeeding at. This earlier timeline has been particularly beneficial to schools, who know where their funding stands prior to the start of a new school year. However, the accelerated budget process has also had some negative consequences, as the need to move quickly has sometimes been at the expense of thorough deliberation and review. Speed is not the measurement of a good budget—its content is. And too often, an imaginary deadline takes precedence over real programs for real people.

The state budget is an indicator of our values, as our priorities are defined by what we are willing to pay for. In the Capitol, there is a limited amount of money to work with each year, and legislators invest in what is important to them. Sometimes that aligns with the needs of their districts and constituents. Other times, it is driven more by political consideration.

If we agree that the state budget is our values statement, then we have much to be concerned about. For the last ten years, the Legislature has been cutting the budget, hurting our communities, our schools, our local infrastructure and our roads. Some of that money, $1.6 billion, to be exact, went to business tax cuts that didn’t help our economy. While there are many different issues with state government that led to the Flint water crisis and the deterioration of Detroit schools, these problems were borne out of bad budget decisions. A business mindset and a hyperfocus on the bottom line meant that the Legislature lost sight of the needs of the people government is supposed to serve.

The League has always seen the connection between fiscal policy and social policy. We are dedicated to promoting equity and economic opportunity and independence for all. A majority of that work lies in pushing for state investment in the programs and services that people depend on to make ends meet and support their families.

From the moment the governor announces his initial budget each year, we get to work on both analysis and advocacy. The League released a first look at the governor’s 2016-2017 budget in February, outlining the pros and cons of the initial budget proposal. We will continue to provide Budget Briefs on other issues as the budget progresses.

The League has testified on budget proposals to make sure the concerns of the people we serve are heard. This includes supplemental budget funding to address the Flint water crisis, as well as appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services, funding for adult education and the budgets for School Aid and the Department of Education.

But the most important person or organization in the budget process is YOU, and the time to act is NOW. You have the power to make a difference and stand up for the budget priorities you believe in. We encourage you to get involved and act as an advocate for yourself, your organization, your neighbor, your school or your community. We will also be emailing out Action Alerts on different budget bills as they come up to outline how you can help.

We can’t let the pace of the budget process interfere with our advocacy. As things get underway next week, I hope you’ll continue to join us in the fight for a budget that works for everyone.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

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