By Matt Jackonen, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 7, 2013
Gov. Rick Snyder laid out a $50.9-billion budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 Thursday morning, which includes small funding increases to the state's institutions of higher education.
The proposed budget, which includes a 5-percent year-over-year growth in spending, focuses mainly on health benefits, pre-elementary education and rebuilding transportation infrastructure.
The budget calls for a modest 2-percent appropriations increase to the state’s public colleges and universities, provided they meet the standards set by the state and limit tuition hikes. The increase comes after the governor's major cuts to higher-education funding in the last two years.
"A second year of increased state appropriations would help keep state funding for higher education moving in the right direction," University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement.
"We also applaud the governor for recommending that this year’s one-time funding become part of the base funding for the coming year," he added.
Under the proposed budget, the state will also distribute up to $100 million in bonds to universities that aim to increase engineering student enrollment and graduation rates. Community colleges can compete for up to $50 million in bonds for graduating skilled-trade students.
The budget also includes an increase of $44 in per-pupil funding for K-12 students, and $400 million for school districts to defray retirement costs.
Snyder will also seek to add $65 million in funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, which focuses on pre-elementary education and preparing the underprivileged youth for school.
Within the proposal is a plan to create a new health savings fund that will collect money to pay for future costs of care. Snyder’s office released a fact sheet on Wednesday that indicated the fund would help Michigan avoid covering additional costs until about 2034.
The budget also calls for an increase in Medicaid coverage that would result in an estimated 46-percent drop in uninsured citizens.
Snyder said in a statement that while it’s important that this will insure many citizens, it is more important that the coverage they receive is of a high quality.
“More important than coverage is the quality of coverage,” Snyder said in a statement. “Let’s get people out of the emergency room, and let’s get them with a primary care physician: someone that can take care of their long-term needs which will save us all money and give better quality of life.”
Michigan’s roads will benefit from the governor’s budget: a proposed gas tax will raise over a billion to fix infrastructure.
Snyder said the increase could be compared to an oil change: the state can either pay the smaller bill to fix roads now or deal with a much larger problem later.
“Our roads are deteriorating, but our road funding system is broken,” Snyder said in a statement. “We could wait until it’s too late and pay a massive bill, or we could invest a smaller amount today and start fixing the problem.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said Snyder's appropriation to higher education is not up to par with other states.
“As far as just the macro level — a small increase for higher education given the very large decrease that he provided back in 2011 — this small increase still leaves us falling behind other states and other nations with less funding for higher education than we had just a couple years ago," Irwin said.
Despite his criticism of the amount of higher education funding, Irwin said he's glad the governor has recommended the creation of a health savings fund.
"The Affordable Care Act was providing hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Michigan to expand healthcare to needy families … For the governor to say that he is prepared to take that federal money and use it to provide service to people in Michigan, I have to say I support that," Irwin said.
However, Irwin said the governor shouldn't get too much praise for proposing what Irwin called a "no-brainer."
"I think it’s the right decision, but I can't give him particularly high marks for standing behind this idea that is so obviously right for Michigan that the only people that would stand opposed to Medicaid expansion are folks who are so anti-government and just so verily opposed to President Obama as a person that they wouldn’t be willing to put their name alongside anything (like this).”
This is a developing story. Check back to michigandaily.com for updates.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the fiscal year that Snyder recommended the budget for.