LANSING (AP) — A state Senate panel yesterday rejected Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s plan for resolving a shortfall in the current budget, balking at a $30 million cut for higher education.
Senate Republicans said they stayed true to their word to maintain state funding for universities and community colleges that kept tuition increases at or below the rate of inflation this school year.
But the Democratic governor called the committee’s action “fiscally irresponsible.”
“Today’s example of obstructionism on the part of the Senate is not acceptable,” Granholm said during an interview in Traverse City. “This is not time for playing around, this is not time for … these partisan salvos from across the aisle.”
The rejection effectively kills Granholm’s executive order, even though the House Appropriations Committee approved it 28-0 yesterday morning. The Senate Appropriations Committee rejected it with a 10-5 vote along party lines. Both committees had to approve the executive order for it to take effect.
Granholm has said she is willing to work with lawmakers on proposed spending cuts to resolve a $376 million shortfall in this year’s $8.8 billion general fund. But some Republican legislative leaders said she should have negotiated with lawmakers before she issued her executive order.
Her proposal would trim state spending by about $227 million, including a $30 million cut in state universities’ and community colleges’ operating budgets.
The governor said she was willing to give higher education $70 million more than what it would lose by using up to $100 million in bonds to cover special building and maintenance projects at universities and community colleges.
But Senate Republican leaders said that wasn’t what higher education institutions had been promised. Universities that held up their end of the bargain by keeping tuition levels in check should expect state officials to do the same, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Shirley Johnson.
“We believe so strongly in that commitment that we placed the language in the budget to protect the promise,” the Royal Oak Republican said. “We remain committed to upholding not only the law, but our word and our integrity as well.”
Lawmakers had 10 days after Granholm released her executive order last Thursday to approve or reject it. Johnson said House and Senate leaders ran out of time to work out a compromise.
“Our communication broke down between each other but not in a negative way. We just didn’t have time to sit down with the House,” Johnson said, noting that lawmakers agreed with 90 percent of Granholm’s proposed cuts.
The House committee had approved a supplemental spending plan that included language to put off the $30 million cut in spending for the state’s 15 public universities until August, when the state would have a clearer idea if revenues had risen enough to avoid the cut.
House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi) said he hoped the results of Thursday’s votes would not hurt his relationship with Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming).
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” DeRoche said of the House committee’s decision to approve the executive order. “Senate members whom I respect have a different direction that they would like to go in negotiations.”
While Granholm heaped criticism on Sikkema, she had kind words for DeRoche.
“I really praise the speaker of the House because I think he was exercising leadership,” she said.
A spokesman for Sikkema said it was the governor’s unwillingness to talk about alternatives to higher education cuts that caused Senate Republicans to vote down the executive order.
“The governor needs to learn that integrity shouldn’t come with an asterisk and a footnote,” Ari Adler said.
Senate Republicans voting to reject the executive order were Johnson, Mike Goschka of Brant, Tony Stamas of Midland, Cameron Brown of Sturgis, Alan Cropsey of DeWitt, Valde Garcia of Howell, Tom George of Portage, Bill Hardiman of Kentwood, Ron Jelinek of Three Oaks and Michelle McManus of Lake Leelanau.
Five of the committee’s six Democrats voted for it: Deborah Cherry of Burton, Hansen Clarke of Detroit, Michael Prusi of Ishpeming, Martha Scott of Highland Park and Michael Switalski of Roseville. Democrat Jim Barcia of Bay City did not vote.