Washtenaw County's state lawmakers embrace aspects of Rick Snyder's budget plan
- Related story: University of Michigan says Snyder 'moving in right direction' by proposing 2% increase for higher ed
Washtenaw County lawmakers say they're encouraged by budget proposals recommended by Gov. Rick Snyder, including increased education funding and an expansion of Medicaid.
Snyder is proposing that Michigan's K-12 public schools, universities and community colleges get funding increases of about 2 percent in the fiscal year that starts in October.
He also is calling for expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act to cover hundreds of thousands of additional residents.
"Particularly given the current state of polarized politics in Lansing, I appreciate that the governor came to this logical conclusion even though it may go against the wishes of some very powerful Republicans," state Rep. David Rutledge, D-Superior Township, said of Snyder's support for expanding Medicaid. "This expansion simply makes good economic sense."
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
"A fundamental purpose and goal of government should be assisting those who most need help, and this expansion will empower state government to do just that," he said.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, called the expansion of Medicaid a "one-question IQ test." By recommending that Michigan accept hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government, Snyder passed that test this week, Irwin said.
"These funds will come into Michigan to provide coverage for thousands of individuals in Washtenaw County by expanding eligibility for Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level," he said. "This will not only expand coverage, it will bring more resources into our hospitals and other health care providers, providing jobs and helping health care providers cover the cost of uncompensated care."
Irwin said he's also happy to see Snyder proposing an expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program to provide more low-income children in Michigan with dental care.
The program is a partnership between the Michigan Department of Community Health and Delta Dental of Michigan that provides Medicaid-eligible residents under 21 with dental benefits. Snyder's plan would cover an additional 70,500 children in Ottawa, Ingham and Washtenaw counties.
"This continues the growth of this successful program," Irwin said. "Good dental health is essential for success in school and in one of the best preventative measures in medicine."
As for the governor's plan to increase funding for public education, Irwin said he's happy to see the modest increases in the budget, but they fall far short of what is needed.
In advance of the governor's budget message, state Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline, called for redirecting unspent general fund dollars from 2012 into the state's School Aid Fund. Driskell said school funding cuts over the last two years have led to overcrowded classrooms, limited curriculums, pay-to-play programs and continued depletion of school fund balances.
"If we want to move Michigan and its economy forward, we have to give children all the resources they need. Education is the first place to start," she said.
State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, said he remains concerned about the funding details of some of the governor's initiatives, including the expansion of early childhood education.
"I strongly support giving Michigan kids a head start by improving access to early education, but if we agree that it is vital to generations of future Michiganders, then we need to offer it to all eligible children," Zemke said. "Every child in our state deserves the best education possible, and to provide this requires funding for full access to these programs."
Zemke, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the Department of Education Subcommittee, said he supports increased funding for community colleges and universities and encouraging educational programs to produce more engineers and skilled tradespeople.
Snyder is proposing issuing a $100 million bond in 2015 to reward universities that produce engineering graduates and a $50 million bond for skilled trade training at community colleges.
"The governor and I agree on these goals, but as always, the devil's in the details," Zemke said. "I look forward to working with members of both parties and both chambers to craft a state budget that reflects Washtenaw County values and gives students and families the support they need."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.