House approves $55.8B state budget

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — House lawmakers approved a roughly $55.8 billion proposed state budget after GOP lawmakers trimmed Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget recommendations following their failure to pass an income tax cut in February, which the governor said the state couldn’t afford.

House Republicans have cut about $272 million in state general fund spending proposed in Snyder’s blueprint, according to the legislation. They’ve also made cuts to funding for some federal matching programs, which drew criticism from Democrats.

The savings could be the linchpin in talks between legislative leaders and the governor about whether to go forward with a tax cut, state debt reduction or more money for infrastructure repairs.

Rep. Robert VerHeulen, R-Walker, said the budget, which passed 60-47 along party lines late Tuesday, would offer “record funding for skilled trades” and adds 100 more state troopers while funding schools, prisons, public safety and state agencies.

“We are spending less state dollars than in the current year,” VerHeulen said in his address to lawmakers urging their support. “We are proposing that we spend less than the rate of inflation, thereby slowing the growth of government.”

The Senate, meanwhile, has trimmed about $277 million from Snyder’s proposed general fund spending. The Senate has not yet voted on budget bills.

The Legislature does not have to approve a final budget until Sept. 30, but Republicans have prided themselves on completing that work by June since Snyder assumed office in 2011.

House lawmakers cut nearly $500,000 from Snyder’s proposed total $1.16 billion funding increase and House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, said he still was intent on pursuing income tax reduction or an overhaul to the state's teacher retirement system.

“You know you could have done better,” House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, told Republicans. “The state has made significant cuts ... now is the time for us to go back and reinvest in those things.”

Democrats had a litany of proposed budget amendments rejected by Republicans.

House Republicans also approved $16.3 billion for education Tuesday night over objections from Democrats and some Republicans who wanted to rein in the amount of money spent on cyberschools while targeting more money for students at poorer school districts. That includes money for K-12, higher education and community colleges.

Snyder’s proposed budget would have cut funding for cyberschools, but the House GOP plan left funding intact after leadership pushed it through in a separate 60-47 vote, with some Republicans voting against the massive spending bill.

Snyder’s budget blueprint would have directed more K-12 funding to students attending poorer schools. But more conservative Republicans modified Snyder’s plan to increase per pupil funding by $100 per student across the board.

The House GOP plan also increases reimbursements for religious schools meeting certain state requirements.

Republicans also approved amendments to give $1.5 million to a Michigan State University food and vegetable processing training program and money for opioid abuse research.