Opinion: Gov. Snyder's planned cuts to schools will create 'Kalkaskas' across the state
In the early 1990s, school officials were unsuccessful in getting school millages passed in Kalkaska, in the northwest part of Lower Michigan. Faced with insufficient funds, the school system was forced to close down earlier in the school year. The high school seniors held their graduations in March/April, and then the entire school system shut down for the balance of the school year. Education stopped dead in its tracks.
Because of that financial debacle, a bill called Proposal A came along and was passed by a vote of citizens across the state. State sales tax changed from 4% to 6%, property tax for home owners was capped at 18 mills, and school finance was largely in the hands of state of Michigan. School funds were to come out of the increased sales tax. At the time, these tradeoffs seemed to work, although some school districts were not so well funded as others.
Then sales tax revenues began to sag as Michigan's economy was buffeted by major shortfalls. American cars were not selling well. Foreign outsourcing of jobs by large corporations caused thousands of manufacturing jobs to disappear in the state, along with the income of those families to dwindle down to unemployment. Thanks to the bad behavior of Wall Street and others, the lending institutions dried up loans for houses, and so home values dropped. This caused the loss of lots of local school funding, since evaluation of homes were the basis of how much the homeowners were taxed locally.
Because Prop A put the financing of schools in the state's hands, districts could no longer ask for new millages from their property tax paying citizens. As Michigan's economy continued to sour, fewer dollars coming in to the state coffers meant fewer dollars sent to school districts. The legislature used a whole raft of shaky one-time fixes to prop up the budget, thus avoiding having to make the call to raise taxes.
Now comes Gov. Snyder's proposed budget. He is recommending that Michigan stop relying on financing tricks like the one-time extending the fiscal year to 15 months, which is why our fiscal year ends in September rather than the more common June 30th. His plan is to solve all of the years of fiscal tomfoolery and cowardice by making draconian cuts to vital services to the poor, the schools, to local units of government. These local cuts will mean fewer police and fire services, a detriment to our safety.
Michigan citizens did not cause any of this mess to happen. Corporations made conscious decisions to prosper by laying off Michigan workers and sending their work to China and other places. The banks and Wall Street wrecked the housing market, causing foreclosures for many citizens. Elected legislators sat on their hands to avoid dealing directly with sagging revenues, because they did not want to risk getting voted out of office or were posturing for a new office.
I respectfully disagree with much of the Snyder plan, since it favors tax cuts to many of the corporations who reduced the Michigan workforce by outsourcing jobs to China and elsewhere. These tax cuts would then be replaced by cutting school funding more and by taxing some retirees more. And Snyder seems unwilling to entertain any creative solutions if they involve tax increases. His efforts mirror several other Republican governors who all seem to be making financial decisions from the same playbook.
When the governor and the Legislature make drastic cuts to school financing, they are in fact creating dozens of Kalkaskas, pushing local school officials to gut their educational programs. Should we run schools until the money runs out and then close in February or March or April? Is this the best scenario for Michigan parents, to see their children's education truncated? Can't the legislators find the courage to make creative decisions that don't bring more grief to citizens? Can corporations prosper on the backs of school kids? Does Michigan deserve better?
Thomas W. Donnelly Canton