Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed a $62.7 billion state budget hours before the new fiscal year, funding a new tuition-assistance program for adults while avoiding major government cuts despite the economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan, which had bipartisan legislative support, also includes a slight boost in aid for schools and a full or partial restoration of tourism and job-training funds that were vetoed amid an impasse a year ago and again when COVID-19 struck. The process was delayed and less transparent this year due to uncertainty over the pandemic’s effect on tax revenues but eased by a $3 billion federal rescue that helped balance the current and new budgets.
“It is a budget that will move Michigan forward,” the Democratic governor told reporters on a call after signing the bills in private at her Lansing residence, where she was joined by budget director Chris Kolb and the top members of the Senate Appropriations Committee: Republican Chair Jim Stamas of Midland and Democratic Vice-Chair Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing. “It was robustly supported in a bipartisan way, which in this current political climate is quite a feat.”
A look at key facets:
The Michigan Reconnect program, which Whitmer proposed after taking office in 2019, will be initially funded with $30 million to provide a tuition-free pathway to adults age 25 and older to obtain an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate. It is separate from another new program, funded with federal virus-related aid, to cover tuition for 625,000 essential workers without an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Base aid for traditional districts and charter schools will remain the same, $8,111 per student for most, but they will get a one-time boost averaging $65 a pupil — a 0.8% increase above last year’s initial allotment. Districts with increased enrollment will receive more. Schools also got increased one-time funding over the summer to account for additional pandemic-related costs.
Support staff at public and private K-12 schools will get up to $250 each to recognize their work during the outbreak. Legislators and Whitmer previously authorized $500 for teachers. The state also will pay a $1,000 retention stipend to first-year teachers who finish the academic year in districts with many low-income students — $500 to other first-year teachers. The state also will extend for three more months a $2 hourly wage increase for “direct care” workers in nursing homes, home health aides and others during the pandemic.
There is $15 million to partially revive Pure Michigan, the state’s tourism campaign. It was not funded last year during a budget stalemate and, once it was set to be added in, was nixed again to conserve money when the pandemic began. There also is $28.7 million for the Going Pro campaign, which helps businesses recruit students into the trades and other high-demand fields, and $31.3 million in earmarks for individual legislative districts.
HEALTHY MOMS, HEALTHY BABIES
The budget includes $12.6 million for the new Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative to address maternal and infant mortality and the disproportionate racial impacts. Medicaid eligibility will be lengthened for new mothers, and in-home visits to at-risk families will rise.
Nearly 6,000 more low-income children will become eligible for subsidized child care.
Kolb said the state will save $270 million from changes in the Medicaid budget, hiring freezes and cuts such as closing a prison facility in Detroit that houses parole violators and inmates who need dialysis.
Whimer vetoed one item, a “placeholder” that would have reimbursed private schools for the cost of adhering to state requirements. She vetoed a similar proposal last year after her Republican predecessor and the GOP-led Legislature had included such funding in prior budgets. A legal battle ensued over the legality of giving public money to nonpublic schools, and the Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments in November. Whitmer also declared as unenforceable several “boilerplate” provisions that she said were unconstitutional and attempted to micromanage department operations.