Lansing Update: May 8, 2009

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. Safety Net Slashed as Legislature Eliminates $1.3 Billion Deficit
  2. Conference Testifies in Support of Juvenile Life Without Parole Changes
  3. House Education Committee Takes Up “School Turnaround Plan” Bills

Safety Net Slashed as Legislature Eliminates $1.3 Billion Deficit

This week both chambers’ appropriations committees signed off on an Executive Order that sliced some $304 million out of the state’s current fiscal year budget, with much of the cuts taking place in several social services programs. The cuts were deemed necessary to alleviate a budget deficit that had skyrocketed to over $1.3 billion in just a few short weeks. According to a news release sent out by the Conference, the passage of the E.O. was “a clear indication of Michigan’s dire economic condition.”

Aside from $41 million in cuts to local governments in the form of revenue sharing payments, and the layoff of some 300 state workers, including 100 State Police troopers, the state’s social safety net suffered a major blow as both the Department of Human Services and the Department of Community Health saw funding for several programs greatly reduced.

The budget cuts were put forth by the administration in the form of Executive Order 2009-22, which was then quickly approved by a wide bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The speed at which the cuts were approved, and the wide bipartisan level of support (15-2 in the Senate; 27-4 in the House) indicated the urgent necessity for the cuts. The remainder of the $1.3 billion shortfall will be covered with some $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

The Department of Human Services, which is the state department most responsible for Michigan’s poor and vulnerable population, saw its budget reduced by over $97 million. State Budget Director Bob Emerson, who briefed the Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee on the details of the Executive Order, stated that over 30 programs that provide assistance to low-income residents would not just be cut, but eliminated altogether in an effort to bring structural change to the state budget. Among the programs cut by the order and its amount include:

Department of Human Services Budget Cuts
Childcare fund $20,000,000
Field staff, salary and wages $11,612,700
Employment and Training Services $10,439,000
Child support incentive payments $9,570,000
Children’s welfare and day care and licensure $3,500,000
Family independence program $1,778,300
Food stamp reinvestment $1,700,000
Adoption support services $1,000,000
Indigent burial $953,300

In the Department of Community Health, 55 specific cuts will take place as more than $53 million was cut from the department’s budget. That includes a four percent reduction in payments to Medicaid health care providers, which totals over $5 million. According to the state budget director, the state is seeing approximately 11,000 families forced onto Medicaid each month because of the economic misery. Other reductions in the department include:

Department of Community Health Budget Cuts
Community Mental Health non-Medicaid services $10,000,000
Health plan services $8,062,300
Local public health organizations $1,535,600
Community substance abuse prevention $1,539,800
Nutrition services $479,400
Mental health initiatives for older persons $262,300
Prenatal care outreach and service delivery support $202,800
Foster grandparent volunteer program $119,600

Legislative leaders and state budget officials will now look forward to the May 15 Revenue Estimating Conference, which will detail up-to-date revenues and shortfalls.

Conference Testifies in Support of Juvenile Life Without Parole Changes

Michigan Catholic Conference this week testified before the House Judiciary Committee [Link no longer available —Ed.] in support of legislation that would amend the state’s juvenile life without parole statute. The measure passed the full House of Representatives last year before dying in the Senate late in the session.

Currently, Michigan law allows for a juvenile to be sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole. MCC and other organizations in support of the bills have stated the current law fails to take into consideration the opportunity for redemption and the maturity level of the offender at the time of the crime.

There are currently 306 individuals in Michigan serving life without parole who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime/sentencing. Michigan ranks third in the nation in terms of number of individuals, and third in the rate of 14–17 year olds per 100,000 given this sentence. Michigan has no minimum age at which offenders are to be tried as adults.

A poll conducted by the Wayne State University Center for Urban Studies has indicated there is strong public support for reforming laws that allow minors to be sentenced to life without parole. Some 72 percent of respondents said they believed adolescents under the age of 18 who commit violent offenses are strong candidates for rehabilitation.

According to testimony delivered to the committee by MCC staff: “The current law holds offenders accountable for their actions, but it fails to challenge them to change their lives, and it fails to promote rehabilitation, correction, and redemption. This must change.”

Committee chairman Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) stated after the hearing that a vote would be taken on the bills May 27.

House Education Committee Takes Up “School Turnaround Plan” Bills

The House Education Committee [Link no longer available —Ed.] this week began discussion of legislation that would mandate a turnaround plan for the most underperforming schools in Michigan, a subject that is likely to be closely followed as the committee moves forward. Leading supporters of the legislation are the chairman of the committee Representative Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills) and Representative Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park).

According to House Bills 4787–4789, the state would consider a school “failing” if it performs below the 30 to 35 percent level of Annual Yearly Progress for four straight years in the subjects of Math and English. What happens to the school at that point is under heavy debate by those in favor of school choice and those against.

Under the legislation, a failing school would be subject to review by a state appointed “reform officer” who would be responsible for submitting to the school a turnaround plan. The extent of the officer’s power is unclear, as are the specifics of what a turnaround plan would include. Speculation has focused on everything from local/state control to the level of accountability that will be mandated, and from the possibility of allowing charter schools in the area to the subject of teacher performance.

Michigan Catholic Conference is closely following the legislation and is supportive of the concept of allowing for more public school choice, including charter schools. The committee is expected to address the bills throughout the month of May.