While students were still asleep on Thursday morning, Michigan’s government shut down. A habit repeated every few years, legislators again failed to pass a budget by the Oct. 1 deadline. Though a complete government shutdown was temporarily forestalled by the passage of an interim budget, last week’s budget debacle – the state legislature’s second in the past three years — was embarrassing. Legislators need to do their jobs and make the tough decisions necessary to fix a $1.8 billion deficit. As they make those decisions, they need to keep in mind this state’s future — one that won’t be possible if the state doesn’t invest in education.

Last week, legislators narrowly prevented a complete shutdown of Michigan’s government by passing a last-minute, after-deadline, extension budget that provided enough money for the government to operate for another month. This temporary fix came about because legislators have, after months of arguing, failed to come to any agreement about how to fill a $1.8 billion deficit. Now, they’ve promised to drag out the arguments for another month, leaving issues that immediately impact people’s lives — like whether students will receive needed financial aid — up in the air.

This situation is absolutely inexcusable. Producing a budget is the primary task of our state legislature, and that budget was due by Oct. 1. Lawmakers knew that getting a budget passed by then would require making some tough decisions. They didn’t make those decisions and consequently they missed their deadline. In other words, they didn’t accomplish the basic job they were elected to do. Instead, they left the state’s financial fate up for grabs for another month.

While many students probably don’t care much about the nuts and bolts of the Michigan legislature’s budget proceedings, the financial fate now up for grabs is especially pertinent to them. Among the numerous programs on the chopping block, the Michigan Promise Scholarship has seen its funding cut from the budget, added back and cut again so many times that determining the scholarship’s status from hour to hour has been dizzying. But that legislative seesaw has consequences. This scholarship program was expected to provide more than 6,000 students on this campus with as much as $4,000 this academic year — a figure that has an important impact on many students’ lives.

This should gravely concern lawmakers. College students throughout Michigan are relying on the Promise Scholarship to attend college this year in the face of rising tuition costs. That’s not to say that other groups are not being affected by the state legislature’s cuts. Almost everyone is. But the state’s investment in education is one that will affect our state’s long-term prosperity unlike almost any other issue. It will determine whether Michigan has a workforce educated enough to compete in the 21st century or one that continues to drive itself into industrial obscurity. Helping these students isn’t just an investment in them, but an investment in the future of the state economy itself.

Congressional Republicans need to face the reality that some tax increases are necessary to get the state the revenue it needs. Democrats, for their part, will have to concede cuts in order to craft a workable budget for next year. But one area that can’t afford a cut is funding for education. It is simply too important.

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