Blog Posts For The Week Of June 24, 2016 Through June 30, 2016

The New Budget Ends A 42-Year Streak
By John Lindstrom

Posted: June, 30 2016 3:26 PM

This week, Governor Rick Snyder signed two budget bills totaling more than $50 billion.

Close to this time in 1974, then Governor William Milliken signed about a dozen budget bills totaling probably a fifth of the 2016 total (non-K-12 school spending totaled close to $4.5 billion for 1974-75 with schools nearly doubling that total).

There is one critical and surprising way in which the budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the budget for the year following former President Richard Nixon’s resignation is alike. And no, it has nothing to do with what departments were funded (most of those have changed so many times about the only two that have their same names and functions now as they did in 1974 are the Department of State Police and the Department of Corrections).

No kidding, this tidbit of budgetary trivia will make a great bar bet for the wonkish lounge lizard needing to score a few points.

Got it yet? No, you probably won’t find it on Google. You have to attack the stacks and drag out the dusty volumes of yore. This reporter did (which reminds me, I must talk to the building’s custodial staff).

Okay, let’s kill the suspense. 1974 was the last time before this week a budget was adopted and signed by the governor without any line item vetoes. No, not one, nada, zilch, zippo, bupkis in terms of line item vetoes. In fact, it appears 1974 is one of the rare years when there were no gubernatorial vetoes at all.

Mr. Milliken was not shy in vetoing bills and issuing line-item vetoes, but not that year. Former Governor James Blanchard had line-item vetoes every year he was governor, even the one year Democrats controlled both houses. Former Governor John Engler issued line-item vetoes, even when the GOP controlled both houses, every one of his 12 years in office. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm issued a line-item veto each year she was in office.

And until this week, Mr. Snyder had issued a line-item veto in each budget.

Of course, public school advocates were hoping he would veto a provision in the school budget where some funds were being allocated to private and parochial schools for administrative purposes. He did not and those public school advocates have promised a lawsuit to challenge its constitutionality.

There you are, 42 years apart there is budgetary harmony and peace. Well, harmony and peace at least in terms of line-item vetoes.

Lies, Damn Lies And School Funding
By Christopher Klaver
Staff Writer

Posted: June, 29 2016 2:32 PM

With the adequacy study released Tuesday, state policy makers now know exactly what it costs to educate a student in the state.

Well, not exactly.

The report’s recommendation of $8,667 per student is based on average expenditures per student in particular districts. But according to its own definitions, the revenue contributing to that included local, state and federal funds. There is little indication what proportion of that spending came from which source.

The recommendation could be for an increase in state funds, or it could be simply a different way of looking at the funds that are already there.

The report also provides recommendations on spending for at-risk and English language learners. It calls for state and local funding to add the 30 percent for at-risk and 40 percent for ELL. But it does not recommend how to distribute those funds and does not indicate how those funds would interact with federal Title I.

It completely ignores (and its arguments for this may not be unreasonable) the cost of special education, which, under a series of lawsuits, the state is supposed to be covering at least most of, but many argue is still falling short. The myriad ways that is handled across the state, and sometimes within a single intermediate school district, do make it difficult to track exactly what is being spent on each child and how those services are provided.

As some noted during interviews for stories Tuesday, the report does not even mention career and technical education, which also is addressed in a variety of ways across the state and, under some recent policy pushes, is an increasingly important element of the K-12 system.

Some supporters of change to Proposal A of 1994 will see solace in the recommendation that, rather than the current system of the state making up the shortfall in local revenue to bring districts to their foundation, the state provide a base level and allow districts to levy local taxes to supplement that.

It recommends, though, that the supplemental funding be equalized, meaning creating a not uncomplicated formula for determining the relative property value of each district and restricting income of property rich districts to not exceed values of poorer districts.

So far few districts have seen defeat of their non-homestead property tax renewal, but that could change if the local tax is seen as supplemental to, rather than part of, the district’s base funding. If voters in a district with high need, essentially the urban and rural districts with high levels of poverty and generally lower property values, chose not to approve that supplemental funding, at what point might the state have to step in?

The proposal also ignores charter schools. Much as some would like, those are not going away, and they do not have a property base from which to assess the supplemental funds. Charter supporters cry foul now because they have to take building costs out of their foundation while traditional districts can levy a bond millage. They would, and reasonably so, scream if they were not provided some opportunity to tap into this supplemental funding.

Building construction and renovation costs, arguably the most inequitable part of the state’s school funding system, remain so under the recommendation. The study did not find a relationship between student success and capital costs or debt service. The study looked at the value of bonds passed and noted that the bond value per student appeared an indicator of the ability to pass a bond, but did not mention that relative property values have, in many communities, been a limiting factor on funds available for construction and renovation.

Rep. Plawecki Leaves A Legacy Of Kindness
By Alethia Kasben
Staff Writer

Posted: June, 27 2016 3:26 PM

As those who work in and around the Legislature return to work on Monday, many of us are dealing with the follow up of the unexpected and sad death of Rep. Julie Plawecki, 54, a Democrat from Dearborn Heights. Today I have heard many stories from her colleagues focusing on her kindness.

When legislators pass away during their time in office, their desks are draped with black cloth and flowers. With the Legislature gone, Ms. Plawecki’s desk won’t be visible to as many people until later in the summer. But still, the desk was draped on Monday.

Rep. Julie Plawecki’s desk on the House floor, draped today with memorial flowers and bunting.

As it is with 110 people serving in the House, I had only spoken with Ms. Plawecki a few times. But those who worked with her and knew her best have told me about her today and described her as sweet, passionate, genuine, kind, tough and a great legislator.

Ms. Plawecki left a mark on many that knew her, and her ability to make connections with those on both sides of the aisle has led to many feeling the grief of her unexpected death over the weekend. In fact, when I went to take a picture of the desk today, one of the House sergeants expressed his sadness at her death and said Ms. Plawecki was just one of the those lawmakers who was always kind, introduced her family to the sergeants and made her appreciation for them known.

One of the many tributes posted on social media since the news of her death comes from Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) who represented the House district before Ms. Plawecki and shares much of the district with her.

“What a leader she was. What a leader she was from the get-go. And she continued to lead on issue after issue until her untimely passing. Children. Seniors. Veterans. Energy. Health Policy. It was like she could do it all and was always happy to be doing it,” Mr. Knezek wrote on his Facebook. “I know her colleagues in the House are going to ensure her work lives on. I pledge that those of us in the Senate will do the same.”

The Chilly Schuette-Snyder Relationship Moves Into Deep Freeze
By Zachary Gorchow

Posted: June, 24 2016 2:51 PM

Nine months ago, as Michigan Republicans gathered on Mackinac Island for their biennial conference, there was one scene that stood out to me.

In the huge dining room of the Grand Hotel, presidential candidate speeches were taking place. Governor Rick Snyder was seated at a table directly in front of the speaker’s podium, and Attorney General Bill Schuette was one table further to the right of the podium.

As the speeches took place, the ones where both were present, the contrast was remarkable. Mr. Schuette was locked in on the speaker, laughing, smiling, generally relishing every moment. Mr. Snyder looked, well, like there were many other places he would rather be. He paid attention, yes, but generally looked expressionless and unimpressed.

The scene underscored something that is well known: The two men are very different in their approaches to governing and politics.

And there has been a raft of issues on which the two have disagreed, such as presumptive parole legislation (Mr. Schuette against, Mr. Snyder for), Mr. Schuette’s joining of a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against the federal Clean Power Plan (which Mr. Snyder did not support), Proposal 1 of 2015 (Mr. Snyder for, Mr. Schuette against), Mr. Schuette siding with Detroit pensioners in the city’s bankruptcy (complicating Mr. Snyder’s task), the Blue Cross legislation (Mr. Snyder for, Mr. Schuette sharply critical of some aspects of it) and so on.

There also was the curious attack ad against Mr. Schuette from the political action committee affiliated with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Snyder ally.

But what’s transpired in the past two months is extraordinary.

First, there was the incendiary letter Mr. Schuette and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton sent to Mr. Snyder warning him that internal state inquiries into the Flint water crisis were impeding their criminal investigation, even going so far as to label the internal inquiries Mr. Snyder requested as an unintentional obstruction of justice. The Snyder camp was livid. While it had announced an internal inquiry into the Department of Health and Human Services, however, it did not reveal an inquiry into the Department of Environmental Quality, with the assistance of a State Police investigator, until Mr. Snyder casually mentioned it at a news conference months into the criminal investigation.

Now this week, there’s the latest sharp difference of opinion. Mr. Snyder joined with the other governors and Canadian premiers who are part of the Great Lakes Compact to approve a request from Waukesha, Wisconsin, to pull water directly from Lake Michigan. Mr. Snyder said Waukesha already pulled water from the Great Lakes basin through groundwater but then disposed of the water into the Mississippi River basin, so the agreement actually is a net gain for the Great Lakes because the city will now dispose water into the Great Lakes basin.

But Mr. Schuette was adamantly against the idea. He publicly criticized the proposal and the decision to approve it.

Underlying all this is the prospective competition for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018 between Mr. Schuette and Lt. Governor Brian Calley, both of whom are expected to run.

Some disagreement between the governor and attorney general is normal and to be expected. The attorney general represents both the administration headed by the governor and the people of the state of Michigan, and sometimes those interests diverge, especially when the two are of different parties (think John Engler and Jennifer Granholm and then Jennifer Granholm and Mike Cox).

The Engler-Granholm and Granholm-Cox relationships were frosty. But at the moment, the Schuette-Snyder relationship is giving them some competition for iciness.

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John Lindstrom
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Alethia Kasben
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Christopher Klaver
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