Michigan lawmakers pass budget overnight after disagreements in funding for schools

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Lawmakers passed Michigan’s next state budget Thursday after a 19-hour session marked by disagreements among Democrats and school groups, who warned that the original proposal for education spending would lead to layoffs.

The votes to pass the $83 billion budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 came around 5 a.m., mostly along party lines in both legislative chambers, where Democrats hold a slim majority. It now awaits final approval from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to signd ir.

Budget debates overnight centered on education funding that legislative leaders, the governor and school groups all had different priorities for.

In the end, the approved $23.4 billion school aid budget will provide free community college for all and free preschool for most.

But school groups said it marks the first time in over a decade that the state will not increase per pupil funding for districts. Democratic lawmakers highlighted that there will be savings in other areas, particularly with a reduced pension contribution rate for retirement benefits. These savings are estimated to be $598 million.

The rate reduction will last only one year after a separate bill to make the savings permanent passed the House but failed to receive final approval in the Senate. The decision not to send the bill to the Senate upset Democratic state Rep. Samantha Steckloff, marking a rare public display of division within the majority party.

“A decision was made, without our knowledge, to not send the bill over to the Senate, killing all hopes for this critical funding,” Steckloff wrote on social media. “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that Democratic House Leadership would do this to our caucus and our schools.”

In February, Whitmer had proposed her own $80.7 billion budget concentrated on initiatives such as free community college for recent high school graduates and free preschool for all 4-year-olds. The passed budget achieves the first priority while falling short of the second, with free preschool being guaranteed only for 4-year-olds with families with incomes at or below 400% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the cutoff would be close to $125,000 in combined income.

The $59 billion general government spending budget — which combines with the school aid fund to make the total budget — saw similar divisions between Democrats and Republicans with only one GOP state senator, Ed McBroom, crossing the aisle.

Leaders touted nearly $100 million for affordable housing projects and nearly $60 million to create a new Michigan Innovation Fund that will support startup companies. The budget includes nearly $335 million in “enhancement grants,” sometimes referred to as special projects.

Lawmakers were working ahead of a self-imposed July 1 deadline and released the budget to the public just hours before voting on it.

The total $83 billion budget is just $1 billion more than this year’s, a significant slowdown following recent years of large overall spending growth fueled by pandemic-related funds.

Still, Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt called the budget a “spending spree” by Democrats that would cause debt and stick “future generations with the bill.”

The Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, which lobbies for K-12 superintendents and administrators, criticized an earlier draft of the budget in a statement Tuesday, saying that it would “lead to layoffs this fall and in the future” and that “funding for our schools will not be enough to keep up with inflation, rising health care costs, and the ending of federal relief dollars.”

As of Thursday morning, the group had made no statement on the final budget.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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