Republicans propose cuts for budget

Published 9:17 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

Niles Daily Star

Michigan’s unemployment rate continues to tower over the national average.
Its manufacturing sector continues to shrink and its government is practically watching its residents cross state lines looking for work and in some ways, one might say, hope.

The road back from the dismal state Michigan is in might be a long one – but Wednesday area House republicans sent a message that they believe though the road may be long, it is possible.

Local lawmakers, John Proos, R-St. Joseph, Sharon Tyler, R-Niles and Matt Lori, R-Constantine met and announced their party’s proposed budget plan for 2010 at the Riverfront CafĂ© in Niles.

“We’ve come up with a plan that is very viable,” said Tyler. “We need to take that and we need to move forward.”

The budget, according to its authors, takes into account elements that have left the state in financial distress, facing a $1.76 billion deficit.

Proos explained that in order to aim the state in the right direction, tough decisions – cuts to certain programs would have to be made. Those decisions would be made rather than raising taxes or using federal stimulus dollars to fill budget gaps, instead of creating jobs for Michigan’s unemployed.

Hope, Lori said, came in the news earlier Wednesday morning that California, which had been forced to write IOUs in the face of a $26 billion shortfall had devised a plan with bills and cuts to ease their financial pain. That plan is expected to be voted on Thursday or possibly Friday, according to some reports.

“If California solve a $26 billion (deficit),” Lori said. “I think Michigan can solve a (nearly) $2 billion deficit.”

Right now, Tyler said, federal stimulus dollars would be used to plug budget holes. The idea is to cut spending so that money can be invested elsewhere, such as infrastructure.
The plan states that $419 million would be freed and should be designated to local and state roads and bridges. It also outlines investments in small business jobs, agriculture and outlines a plan to lower healthcare costs by investing in system improvements.

Tyler said such investments are necessary to lure businesses into the area as better roadways mean better transportation of goods and services. “If you don’t have roads to bring the truck traffic in, the businesses won’t come,” she said.

“You need to think about where we’ve been and what the situation is to where we are today,” Proos said.

Other aspects of the Republican plan include rooting out Medicaid fraud which could save the state $90 million annually, welfare reform that would limit “able-bodied, work eligible FIP recipients” to four years and saving $51 million for the general fund should the implementation be retroactive.

Cuts would also hit areas of agriculture, including a reduction in funding for information technology and top tier administrator positions, cuts to state corrections including reinstating fees to prisoners for phone usage and reducing overtime, eliminating “At-Risk” payments at community colleges and an 18 percent department wide reduction at the Department of Environmental Quality, to name a few.

Some of the biggest numbers when it comes to cuts come in the area of community health programs, including $150 million saved through reducing funding available for mental health services for non-Medicaid persons and substance abuse services and increasing Medicaid co-pays.

All together, the cuts proposed would amount to $878 million.

“If we don’t do this now,” said Lori. “We’re going to be in worse shape a year from now.”
Proos likened the process to those hardworking state residents sitting down to the kitchen table each day balancing their own checkbooks, making tough decisions and cutting out certain expenses.

“If we don’t make the tough decisions today,we’ll end up worse,” he said.
The plan has until Oct. 1 to be approved. Each representative said the issue is bipartisan.

Whether Democrats “on the other side of the aisle” view the proposed plan that way, remains to be seen.