Gov signs $39.9B general government budget, calls Planned Parenthood cut 'unenforceable'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday signed and celebrated a new $39.9 billion general government spending plan for 2019, but he chided “unenforceable” language designed to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

Governor Rick Snyder shows the crowd a countdown clock he gave budget workers on his first budget bill while making comments before signing the current budget bill, months ahead of schedule, in a ceremony on the steps of the Capitol in Lansing on Thursday, June 21, 2018. This is Snyder's eighth and final budget as governor.

The second-term Republican is expected to sign a separate $16.8 billion education budget into law next week, along with a $100 million talent initiative he has dubbed his “Marshall Plan."

Snyder praised lawmakers for sending him eight straight early budgets. The $56.8 billion budget will be his last before leaving office due to term limits.

The general government budget sent to his desk includes a provision to prohibit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services from contracting for non-abortion family planning and reproductive services with an entity that also performs abortions, unless there are no alternative providers in the same county.

Lawmakers said the provision was meant to steer government funding toward providers that “advance the pro-life cause” instead of Planned Parenthood. Snyder called the language an unconstitutional attempt to amend an existing state law that already prioritizes funding for outfits that do not perform abortions.

The governor cannot line-item veto boilerplate language but issued a signing statement telling lawmakers and state departments the provision is not enforceable, rendering it moot.

“There’s a separate statute that sets those priorities” for family planning money, Snyder told reporters. "And if you look at the Constitution, the Constitution basically says you can’t amend by reference, where you simply mention another part of another law.”

Lawmakers could attempt to change the funding law in a separate policy bill, but it’s not clear if they have any plans to do so this fall.

“Obviously there’s a small disagreement about whether or not it’s enforceable,” said Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for House Republicans. “The Legislature believed this was one way to do it, and it was important and worth doing in the budget. That’s what we’ve been focused on up to this point.”

Lori Carpentier, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said earlier Thursday that enforcing the budget provision would reduce access to family planning services that actually help reduce abortions.

“If lawmakers really wanted to effectuate the rate of abortion, you would think they would sink every dollar they could into effective family planning programs,” Carpentier said. “If this went through, there would be more abortion.”

Federal dollars the state awards through a Title X grant program help pay for subsidized birth control, sexually transmitted infection testing, cancer screenings, pap smears and breast exams. Carpentier said it is generally a “money loser” for providers, with costs outweighing funding, but Planned Parenthood supplements government dollars with private fundraising.

Right to Life of Michigan had praised lawmakers for the budget provision, arguing the state has been ignoring the priority funding law and that "non-controversial places" like county health departments could perform more family planning services.

"It's time for our state government to follow the state law and make sure our tax dollars are not helping Planned Parenthood expand abortion," Right to Life President Barb Listing said last week.

But Carpentier said Planned Parenthood bids on family planning services that priority providers do not have the capacity to handle. Stripping their funding could leave 20,400 people in 10 counties with “no place to go," she said.

Whether they were motivated by ideology or election-year politics, Republicans who added the budget language did so “without concern for what the consequences would be,” Carpentier argued.

Top budget highlights

Snyder said he’s “eight for eight” for delivering timely, responsible budgets.

He signed the spending bill on the west Capitol steps surrounded by current government officials and “part of the alumni club” of past budget officials, including former House Speaker Jase Bolger and former Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Kahn.

“This is eight years, eight budgets in a row, done early, structurally sound and setting up Michigan’s future,” Snyder said.

The governor emphasized the budget increased staffing for the Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Corrections, hiked grant funding to combat campus sexual assault, contributed toward a “rainy-day” budget stabilization fund that’s grown from $2 million to $1 billion in eight years and added an extra $300 million for roads in 2019.

“If you think about it, 2019 will have a 42 percent increase compared to 2015," Snyder said of state road funding, which critics continue to call inadequate. "So  I hope our citizens are looking forward to seeing a lot more barrels out there."

The total $56.8 billion budget represents a 0.2 percent spending decrease from the current year.

Generally, lawmakers were in broad agreement on the budget, especially after officials identified a $500 million surplus in the budget, which will be used for roads, school safety and mental health grants, and the state’s “rainy day” budget stabilization fund.

While lawmakers often adjust budgets mid-year, the new plan calls for less general fund discretionary spending than 2018, a 1.7 percent decrease from $10.2 billion to $10 billion.

With the state’s prison population steadily declining, the new budget calls for the state to close another, not-yet-identified prison in 2019. A mid-year closure could save the Michigan Department of Corrections an estimated $19 million, according to the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

It would be Michigan’s third major prison closure in the past four years. The state shuttered Pugsley Correctional Facility in 2016 and the Muskegon West Shoreline Correctional Facility in March.

The 2019 spending plan includes $13.2 million to end controversial privatized prison food service and transition back to state workers. The Republican-led Legislature voted to outsource prison food in 2012 in an attempt to save money, but contracts with two private firms were marked by complaints over unsanitary conditions and sexual activity between workers and inmates.

When he rolled out his initial budget proposal in February, Snyder announced plans to end a state contract with Trinity Services Group, saying the costs of privatized food service ended up outweighing any benefits.

The education bill includes a $120 to $240 increase per-pupil in in K-12 schools, raising the minimum allowance per pupil from $7,631 to $7,871.

While the education spending bill moved through the Legislature, Democrats expressed concern about boilerplate language that would add penalties for low-performing school districts that don’t meet the requirements of the partnership agreements they’ve made with the state.

The language would require those 18 districts and charter schools to meet certain benchmarks or risk closure, changes to instruction, or replacement of at least a quarter of faculty and staff.

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