Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 23, 2013

Editorial: Investing in roads, schools will help Mich. recovery

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The budget deal worked out by Gov. Rick Snyder and leaders of the GOP majority in the Legislature is encouraging — if it really points the way to future spending priorities.

Michigan collected about $483 million more in taxes than expected for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and projections for the next fiscal year are also higher.

Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education President Kelly Hall said about $140 million of the excess revenue will go toward K-12 schools. She praised Sen. Howard Walker of Traverse City for being “instrumental” in the decision.

Not all of that money will go to per-pupil funding. Most will apparently be used to reward so-called “best practices” programs or pay down retirement liabilities.

But it’s still money for K-12, an investment the state must commit to if Michigan is going to recover from the Great Recession. The $120 million is a drop compared to the $2 billion in cuts to public schools over the past two years, but it’s a start.

The deal set targets of $350 million for roads, $140 million for K-12 education, $75 million for the Rainy Day Fund and $16 million in revenue sharing for local governments.

The GOP leadership said the $350 million for roads doesn’t mean the state won’t continue its push to add $1.2 billion per year to repair Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure. The $350 million is well short of the $12 billion Snyder said Michigan needs over the next 10 years.

During the economic collapse the state experienced during the national recession there were cuts it had to make. But education StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— both K-12 and higher ed StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— suffered more than their share. Replacing the most recent $2 billion in cuts StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— and hundreds of millions more over the past half decade StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— won’t happen overnight, but it must happen. The $140 million is on top of a 2 percent budget increase already targeted for K-12.

Repairing the state’s infrastructure is almost as important an investment as schools. Grand Traverse County Road Commission Manager Jim Cook said the commission recently estimated it needs $85 million to bring all county roads to “good” or “fair” condition. While even one-time spending is welcome, it’s hardly a solution.

The neglect at the state level has been persistent. The state has not raised its 19-cent per gallon excise tax on gasoline StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— the main pot for road and transportation funding StrokeStyle/$ID/Solid— since 1997.

As the economy improves so will state revenues, and how that money is spent will dictate the future. Education and infrastructure must be at the top of the list.