Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

February 13, 2014

Phil Power: Budget proposals a step in the right direction

Reflections on Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for our next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1 …

It’s beginning to look as though he’s thinking of his time as governor in two main blocks: The first, from taking office in 2011 through this November’s vote, has been about restructuring the financial underpinnings of the state: Fixing the business tax, getting balanced state budgets adopted on time, and so forth.

The second, assuming voters give him another four years, will be about rebuilding Michigan’s seriously frayed economic infrastructure. Snyder’s emphasis on investing in education is at the core of his budget message. He wants a 6.1 percent increase for public universities, 2.8 per cent for elementary and high schools and another $65 million for his pre-kindergarten Great Start Readiness Programs (GSRP.)

The budget is both largely sensible on its face and politically shrewd, since it looks as though spending on schools will be a big part of this year’s political argument. The governor’s budget proposal is obviously designed to counter claims he’s short-changing education.

Without any doubt, higher education in Michigan has been irresponsibly savaged over the years: Seven straight cuts since 2000, including a 15 per cent drop during Snyder’s first year, made our state nearly first in the nation at cutting support for colleges.

While it will certainly help if Snyder can get the Legislature to add his requested $76.9 million for higher education, Michigan still should be greatly embarrassed that it spends more on warehousing criminals in state prisons ($ 2 billion) than on public universities ($ 1.5 billion).

Along with the increases, the governor is emphasizing university tuition restraint by capping allowable increases at 3.2 per cent. (Universities that go over that figure will lose some of their state aid package.)

For years, polls have suggested the main concerns of Michigan voters are jobs and unemployment. But I’ve seen some new numbers that suggest public attitudes are changing. Concern about college affordability has been increasing as families begin to realize how much college debt they’re run up over the past decade. Keeping the lid on tuition hikes is also good politically — although the universities have a legitimate point that tuition increases over the last decade have been provoked by matching cuts in state support.

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