There was a lot of activity in Lansing a few weeks ago. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference determined that the state faced a General Fund shortfall in the current year and was about $600 million below earlier revenue estimates for FY 2016. The Legislature and Governor determined the best course of action was to stop some spending in the current budget year (some of it accounting tricks, some of it relatively benign, and some of it by increasing caseloads through attrition in DHS and DCH) and to once again raid the School Aid Fund to the tune of $125 million. Evidently, in Rick Snyder’s mind it makes more sense to raid the School Aid Fund than to use the Budget Stabilization Fund (“Rainy Day Fund”) to fill the GF shortfall, because that’s not the complete opposite purpose of each fund within the state budget – oh wait that actually is the complete opposite purpose of each fund. Perhaps, this helps to understand Ricky’s mind a little better – “relentless positive action” sure makes more sense with this understanding of what I have coined “Snydlexia.”
We also learned about our esteemed Governor’s plans for FY 2016. To make up the $600 million gap he proposed a number of one time fixes (for instance cutting $20 million from the State Police because they don’t need to buy a new helicopter again this year) and most of those make sense. Once again we see increased caseloads and other cuts to services. And once again we see the School Aid Fund being used as a safety net for General Fund shortfalls. Money that was intended for K-12 schools will help to fund community colleges, voc-ed and career training, and higher education. But the Governor still found money in the School Aid Fund to propose funding “increases” for school districts. In my home district the Governor’s proposal will provide one whole dollar less of a funding “increase”. That will certainly allow for new and innovate programs and finally give teachers a pay raise after 8 years of a static pay scale that was preceded by pay cuts. Hold the phone, I guess it actually won’t provide for any of that.
So, we once again find our State caught in this perpetual cycle of raids on the School Aid Fund and lots of talk and promises about increasing K-12 funding which results in cuts or static funding (that in real terms is a cut because it doesn’t even keep up with relatively low inflation). It is clear the Governor and Legislature’s real priority, and basically only priority, is providing tax “relief” to corporations. You see big businesses claiming tax credits is what produced these budget shortfalls. I probably should have mentioned that earlier as you were probably wondering how we could have budget shortfalls after two years of economic growth and low (5.5%) unemployment across the country (we will revisit these numbers in a future post that also discuss the increases in inequality that have been coupled with this economic growth), well those good economic times have meant that large corporations attained their tax credit targets and can now claim them. I will grant that some of these credits helped The Big 3 out of the hole of the Great Recession, but it seems companies now making profits can afford to pay their fair share. The end result is that out state’s budget looks more like 2010 than 2016 and that’s not good for education (or local government, public safety, and the social safety net).
But alas, the purpose of this post is not gloom and doom – no dear reader there is a hope on the horizon thanks to the innovate thinking of Canton’s own Senator Patrick Colbeck. Raids on the School Aid Fund and GF shortfalls caused by business tax credit triggers need not worry schools anymore as Senator Colbeck has introduced the bill that will save school funding as we know it (SB 139). You see what our schools really need is to be free of the silly regulations regarding school lunch nutrition as this will allow schools to hold fundraisers (but no more than 3 per/week) that sell food outside of the federal nutrition guidelines. Yes, junk food fundraisers will save our schools! Just imagine all the new programs and even new teachers that can be paid for by Little Caesars Pizza Kit fundraisers in your local school! The mind boggles at the possibility – forget those silly per/pupil base grants, we will soon be able to sell candy bars to pay for that new reading specialist. So rest easy, our school’s budget issues are just a few popcorn tin sales away from being solved. Thanks Pat! So glad you’re my state senator.