The Michigan Promise Scholarship saga continued yesterday after a proposal in the state House to fully fund the grants passed committee.
State Rep. George Cushingberry (D–Detroit), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced a bill Thursday morning that would fully fund the $120 million Michigan Promise Scholarship program. Representatives voted along party lines to pass the bill within the committee.
The bill represents a turnaround from Wednesday’s vote in the Conference Committee on Higher Education, which resulted in a decision to cut the Michigan Promise Scholarship.
Rep. Joan Bauer (D–Lansing), chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, voted in support of funding the Promise Scholarship yesterday. In an interview yesterday, Bauer said the only downside of the bill is that Cushingberry did not present a concrete plan for funding the scholarship.
However, Bauer said there are many ways to increase revenue to provide funds for the Promise Scholarship, like closing tax loopholes, raising fees on beverages like bottled water by a penny or putting a six cent sales tax on live entertainment.
“Every single area is getting cut,” Bauer said. “So we’re at a point now where it’s not like we could just go take money out of one area and put it in another. We’re really at a point where we have to raise revenue if we want to keep the Promise grants.”
But committee Republicans like State Rep. Dave Agema (R–Grandville), who also sits on the House Appropriations Committee, disagree with the proposal to generate revenue by raising taxes.
Agema, who voted against Cushingberry’s proposal to reinstate funding for the Michigan Promise Scholarship, said that while he doesn’t want to cut the program, he’s not willing to vote on something that does not have a solid source of funding.
“It’s not that we’re against the Promise Grant,” Agema said. “It’s just kind of a crazy thing you have to vote on something when you don’t even know where the money’s coming from.”
Agema said he disagrees with House Democrats’ proposals to use tax hikes to pay for the program.
“Before you ask any body to pay anymore taxes in the state of Michigan, be efficient with what you have,” Agema said. “The answer isn’t always just to raise taxes, the answer is where are we spending money where we shouldn’t, prioritize the spending and spend it that way.”
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed raising $680 million in revenue through increasing certain taxes and reducing business tax credits.
Megan Brown, a spokeswoman for Granholm, said the governor stands by her decision to support funding for the Michigan Promise Scholarship despite challenges to the budget.
“The governor continues to support the Michigan Promise Scholarship because it is our first universal scholarship and as such, supports the belief that everyone should continue their education beyond high school,” Brown said. “As far as today, we’re pleased they have reinstated it, but it’s just one step.”
In an e-mail interview, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations at the University, said she is optimistic the governor and state legislators will find a way to fund the program despite the challenges of the state budget.
“The action today by the House Appropriations Committee to restore, at least in part, the Michigan Promise Scholarships is encouraging, but there is lots of work to be done to identify funding for the program,” Wilbanks wrote.
The House and Senate are slated to vote on the final budget proposals brought forth by the conference committees the legislature’s Oct. 1 deadline to finalize a budget.
Both Bauer and Agema said state legislators will come to an agreement before the cut-off date.
“I’m fairly confident that the government will not shut down and we will have an agreement by the deadline,” Bauer said. “I’m doing all I can, but a lot of it is going to depend if people in the legislature are willing to vote for some increases in revenue in order to fund it. That’s really what it’s going to come down to at this point.”
— Daily News Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.