Gilda Z. Jacobs: Legislature’s budget has some bright spots, but still leaves marginalized residents in the shadows 

September 27, 2019 5:30 am

Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

We love budgets at the Michigan League for Public Policy, both as an organization and as individuals. It is a big focus of our work each year, as it is one of the best ways to have the most significant impact on improving the lives of people in our state.

But as an organization that loves budgets, the Fiscal Year 2020 budget put forth this week by the Republican-led Michigan Legislature leaves much to be desired.

The biggest disappointment in the Legislature’s budget is that it yet again ignores the need for real revenue, courageous leadership and bold action. 

It continues to spin paltry increases as record highs. It continues to ignore our state’s crumbling infrastructure and it continues to put Band-Aids on broken bones and pennies in potholes. And it continues to play shell games with limited funds and pit our schools, our higher education institutions, our roads, our public safety officers and others against each other.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Zeeland | Nick Manes

By not following suit on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s revenue request, the Legislature’s budget also failed to match her significant investments in our state’s schools and roads and help working families with an increase to the state Earned Income Tax Credit. Instead, the state budget legislators sent to the governor includes minor increases, more short-term fixes and some major outright failures.

One of the most egregious omissions was the Legislature’s rejection of the governor’s $10 million funding request in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for education and outreach on Healthy Michigan Plan work requirements that take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. 

After multiple failed tries to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Donald Trump pushed Medicaid work requirements as another way to undercut the ACA, and Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Snyder unfortunately followed suit.

And now, as Whitmer and DHHS do their best implement this partisan policy, Republican lawmakers ignored their request for funding to lessen its impact, poising Michigan to replicate the outrageous health coverage losses — and resultant lawsuits — the other foolhardy states to follow Trump’s lead have experienced. 

Apparently, the Legislature is OK with tens of thousands of people, or perhaps more, losing coverage because of the Healthy Michigan work requirements they pushed and the education and outreach funding they quashed. 

Pro-immigration protest outside the second Democratic debate | Ken Coleman

State Republicans also are following their president’s playbook by villainizing immigrants, including in the state budget. The Department of Corrections budget includes boilerplate language that would pull state reimbursements to jails in counties with sanctuary policies or rules preventing law enforcement or employees from speaking to federal agents about the immigration status of an individual. 

In one fell swoop, they’re eating away at the lives of our residents, the rights of local government and the very fabric of our state, and further telling immigrants they are not welcome in Michigan.

While lawmakers’ boasts on record K-12 funding are no stranger to inflation, actual School Aid dollars are the same they were in 1995. Though the Legislature continues to “invest” in schools, we’re disappointed in their failure to address Whitmer’s proposed weighted funding formula that would improve outcomes for kids in high-poverty schools.

This funding model is in line with recommendations from the bipartisan School Finance Research Collaborative, which the League is a part of, and would have helped the kids who are facing the greatest challenges, giving their schools the appropriate resources. The Legislature also continues to siphon off School Aid dollars for higher education and other budget areas.

There are some bright spots in the budget, too. In Michigan, the cost of child care for families rivals that of a mortgage payment or rent, and many families simply can’t make ends meet in the current system. We’re pleased that the Legislature has included $15 million to raise provider rates, which will go a long way toward making child care accessible. 

Unfortunately, not much was included to help parents. Michigan has one of the most restrictive eligibility requirements for child care assistance in the nation, at just 130% of the poverty level. 

The Legislature disregarded the governor’s request to increase the child care subsidy eligibility rate to 140%, an increase that would have helped thousands of families gain access to child care. A higher eligibility rate would help more parents enter the workplace and help more kids get high-quality care that will prepare them for school.

Some other positives include:

  • Increased funding for the Ten Cents a Meal program from $575,000 to $2 million. The program gives participating school districts an incentive to purchase locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, and the additional funding expands eligibility to school districts statewide as well as childcare centers.
  • Agreement with the governor’s proposal to include $226,000 in the DHHS budget to cover the costs of waiving birth certificate fees for people experiencing homelessness. 
  • Funding for school-based health centers, including money for centers in underserved areas of the state, and funding for behavioral health community supports and services.
  • New language allowing a female prisoner to have one visitor present during her labor and delivery.

The budget now heads to the governor for her final review. The 2020 budget is a far cry from what she envisioned. And knowing what it could have been, I share her frustration. Legislative Republicans decided to put politics over people, and Michigan residents deserve better than the budget the Legislature has foisted on them. 

Whitmer has some very difficult decisions in the coming days, but she still holds a lot of power in her pen. 

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Gilda Z. Jacobs
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Gilda Z. Jacobs has dedicated her life to helping others, working as an educator, helping provide housing for people with disabilities, serving in state and local government for 30 years, including 12 in the Michigan Legislature, and currently leading the Michigan League for Public Policy as President and CEO.