Keep state budget focused on common sense

Counterproposals from the Democratic-controlled Legislature include pragmatic improvements to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s original budget proposal. The focus of negotiations over the $80.9 billion spending plan should be on boosting accountability for the use of state dollars.

That need was amplified with the revelation that a secretive $20 million grant to Democratic donor Fay Beydoun and included in a previous budget was used to purchase a $4,500 coffeemaker, and for other questionable purposes.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp., which handled the grant, is trying to recoup some of the money.

This time, every expenditure should be thoroughly vetted and justified to taxpayers.

Lawmakers should also commit to funding bipartisan priorities while limiting irresponsible schemes, such as the governor’s proposal to redirect $670 million from school employee retirement funds to expanding K-12 education programs.

The State Senate, when it considered the budget proposal, didn’t touch Whitmer’s proposal to reduce the state’s required annual contribution to the healthcare portion of the Michigan Public Schools Employees’ Retirement System.

The House, however, called for $290.8 million of the diverted funds to go to help school districts meet their contributions to retirement plans and pushed $41 million to reimburse employees some of their 3% health care contribution.

Both chambers are controlled by Democrats. Liabilities remain in the pension and retirement system that should be covered. Diverting funds to help teachers pay for health insurance and expand the education bureaucracy is irresponsible.

Whitmer’s free preschool and community college proposals didn’t make it into the budget version passed last week by the House, a responsible move. The cost of those programs, if deemed worthwhile, should be covered by re-prioritizing existing resources.

The House rightly restored Whitmer’s funding cuts to the Office of Auditor General, the one office in Lansing that holds lawmakers accountable.

But the House failed to take up Republican amendments that would place guardrails on earmarks for lawmakers; pet projects.

Despite the uproar over the Beydoun grant, lawmakers haven’t yet rolled back last year’s decision to decrease the frequency of mandated grant reports from the MEDC to once a year from four times annually.

In fact, they propose this year to strip the annual reporting requirement altogether. That almost assures taxpayers will be buying more luxury coffee pots for political cronies.

Local roads lost out in Democrats’ House proposal to more frivolous pursuits, including aerial drones, slated to receive $15 million, and electric bikes incentives, $3 million.

The transportation budget also includes $5 million for the state to develop and implement a road usage tax that would require the installation of trackers in every Michigan vehicle so the state can monitor miles driven and tax them.

With the federal COVID funds that have supplemented the state budget, lawmakers and the governor should be looking to trim back spending to a more sustainable level. But they aren’t dialing back expenditures, setting up the likelihood of future tax hikes.

They’ve got until July 1 to get it right and should keep working to produce a commonsense budget that reins in unnecessary expenditures and better accounts for every dollar that is spent.


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