Republican lawmakers forged ahead with recommending funding levels for schools, universities and the state’s environmental agency Thursday, diverging with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on education funding but adhering closely to her requests for funds to clean up drinking water.
House and Senate lawmakers moved six department budgets out of conference committee Thursday, including the school aid budget for K-12, higher education, community colleges, the Michigan State Police, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. More committees are currently scheduled for next week.
Complicating the process – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn’t involved in negotiations at the moment. She and Republican leadership reached an impasse last night that both sides characterized as a dispute over proposed one-time road funding.
House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, said in a statement he’s ready to work with the governor “as soon as she stops spending all her energy playing political games.”
Whitmer said the breakdown stemmed from Republicans offering one-time road funding money that’s “a pittance of what we really need.”
The transportation budget hasn’t come up in conference committee yet. But Republican House and Senate lawmakers took on the budgets that fund K-12 schools, community colleges and universities Thursday, reporting out a plan that would increase spending, but not as much nor in the same manner as Whitmer proposed.
The school aid budget as reported increases spending by 2.4 percent to about $15.2 billion, a little less than the 3.5 percent increase Whitmer proposed in her budget.
The plan includes $304 million to raise per-pupil spending between $120-240 per pupil, and eschews Whitmer’s suggestion to move towards a weighted funding formula that addresses the higher costs of educating special education or at-risk students.
In the higher education budget reported from committee, there was a proposed 0.5 percent increase for university operations, less than the 3 percent increase proposed by Whitmer. Community college operations would see a .08 percent increase, again less than Whitmer’s proposed 3 percent increase.
Both the House and Whitmer’s budget proposals recommended paying for higher education funding with all general fund dollars and using school aid money solely on K-12 spending. The House and Senate conference budget settled on shifting $150.3 million in school aid money back to K-12 spending and pulling it instead from the general fund.
Legislative Republicans appeared to agree with Whitmer on additional spending for cleaning up drinking water.
In the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy budget plan, $120 million was set aside for several water-related initiatives, including $40 million for addressing PFAS and other contaminants, $35 million for forgiving drinking water utility loans and $30 million for Lead and Copper Rule implementation.
It’s similar to a supplemental request Whitmer made earlier this year for funding to help replace lead service lines, fund research and treatment for toxic PFAS chemicals and other emerging contaminants, forgive water utility loans, fund watershed management and water distribution research.
The budget plans were reported without support from Democrats, who were especially critical of the K-12 plan.
Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, said the proposed increase was “inadequate” and isn’t based on the specific needs of children and local districts.
“Our children deserve better,” she said. “We can do better.”
Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, said he felt the school aid budget was a good product that accomplished many of the goals Whitmer outlined in her initial budget proposal.
“I’m proud to stand beside it – I think it does a great job for educating our youth,” he said.
Michigan’s next fiscal year begins Oct. 1. If officials can’t come to an agreement on budgets before then, the government would go into shutdown.