Michigan Republicans are condemning Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposal to cut the Michigan Merit Scholarship program to help balance the state budget.

Granholm proposed a $60 million cut to the program during her budget presentation in March, reducing the size of individual scholarships from $2,500 to $500 – a measure that House Republicans are calling unacceptable.

In response to the governor’s suggested cuts, Republican Reps. Leon Drolet of Clinton Township, Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township, David Farhat of Muskegon and Dave Robertson of Grand Blanc have proposed a bill to maintain the program’s funding. The bill intends to withdraw $35.5 million in funding from the state-funded Michigan Economic Development Corp., which offers tax cuts and abatements to select corporations that operate in Michigan.

Brandenburg called the MEDC a form of “corporate welfare,” and said the debate over the Merit Scholarships could currently be the most serious point of dissent between the governor and legislative Republicans.

“Between 1995 and 2001, 546,000 new jobs were created in Michigan. Only 7,100 of them can be attributed to the MEDC,” Brandenburg said. “That $2,500 means a lot to a lot of people, especially students who are putting themselves through school.”

Granholm defended her stance on Merit scholarships as well as on the MEDC and has said that her budget proposals reflect the concerns and priorities of the people of Michigan.

The governor “wants to expand educational opportunity while also expanding economic opportunity so that there will be jobs for students once they graduate,” Granholm spokeswoman Elizabeth Boyd said.

“We certainly expected debate over the budget. The governor believes a $500 scholarship is more appropriate, though if they have proposals, she is definitely willing to listen.”

Drolet believes the MEDC ineffectively uses scarce state funding for academic scholarships and other programs and has accused the governor of misinterpreting the priorities of the state’s citizens.

“This is an issue of priorities,” Drolet said in a written statement. “The governor wants to cut 80 percent of the merit award scholarships while proposing lesser cuts in grants and tax breaks for government-preferred businesses. I don’t think this reflects the priorities of Michigan citizens.”

The scholarships have been a hotbed of political debate from the outset. Created by former Gov. John Engler in 1999 from money received in state settlements with tobacco companies, the scholarship program has been criticized by Michigan Democrats as an inappropriate output for the money. But despite the long debate, Brandenburg said that the current Republican grievances are not a fundamentally partisan issue.

“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you like that $2,500 scholarship for your kids,” Brandenburg said.

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