The Word from Lansing: Prioritizing the Vulnerable in the State Budget

Two young children smiling and studying a book at school

In households across Michigan, individuals and families make decisions about the best way to allocate their resources, considering needs and desires. Michiganders know well that sacrifices are often necessary to make ends meet.

At the State Capitol, elected officials are having similar conversations about how taxpayer dollars should be allocated to various policies and budget items. These discussions began on March 5, when Governor Gretchen Whitmer and State Budget Director Chris Kolb presented their Executive State Budget Recommendations for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. These committees consider and recommend state expenditures before they are voted on by the full Legislature.

The majority of Governor Whitmer’s first set of budget recommendations to the Legislature focused on a forty-five cent fuel tax to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. She stated her goal was to bring ninety percent of Michigan’s roads up to a “good” or “fair” condition by 2030.

For Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal included a few positive components, such as:

  1. A doubling of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from six percent of the federal credit to twelve percent. The state EITC, which began in 2006 and was reduced in 2011, recognizes the value of work and does more to lift low-income individuals, families, and children out of poverty than any other policy. MCC has been a strong advocate for the EITC, championing its original passage and preventing its full elimination in 2011.
  2. An emphasis on the need for clean water in Michigan. Too many Michigan communities have experienced water contamination from lead or PFAS, chemicals often found waterproof, stain-resistant, or non-stick products. MCC continues to highlight the need for access to clean, safe, and affordable water for all, as the Catholic Church teaches water “cannot be treated as just another commodity among many” and it should be used “rationally and in solidarity with others” (Social Compendium, 2004).
  3. Continued funding for dual enrollment. This long-standing policy allows high school—including nonpublic and homeschool—students to enroll in a post-secondary institution class while still in high school.

Unfortunately, the governor’s budget recommendations also included cuts to important policies. For example, the governor has proposed cutting funding to the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services program, which supports women in crisis pregnancies from conception until the child’s first birthday. At a time when elected officials in other states have cut protections for babies who survive an abortion attempt (or at the federal level, denied that a need for protections exists), Michigan’s program is needed more than ever. Women need support, not abortion. By providing pregnancy counseling, parenting education, and necessary care items, the program uplifts vulnerable women and provides support that may not be present otherwise.

The Executive State Budget Recommendations also eliminate reimbursements to nonpublic schools for complying with state health, safety, and welfare mandates, and eliminate a grant to help nonpublic school students participate in the First Robotics program. MCC strongly believes all kids deserve to be cared for and safe, and all students should be able to explore science and robotics, regardless of where they attend school.

Now that Governor Whitmer has proposed her recommendations, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin meeting to put forward their own recommendations. In recent years, the state budget has been finished by June, but lawmakers have until October 1 to finalize the spending.

The process of creating a state budget requires careful consideration, tough decisions, and compromise. In these next few months, MCC will advocate on behalf of the Catholic Church in Michigan to restore funding to vital appropriations for vulnerable women, children, and students. Just as a family budget indicates a family’s priorities, Michigan’s budget will signal which policies this state prioritizes. MCC looks forward to ensuring the state’s priorities include the needs of the most vulnerable.