Gov. Snyder proposes $50.9-billion budget with gas-tax increase


LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday proposed a $50.9-billion budget that would raise state gas taxes and vehicle fees, expand Medicaid to more uninsured adults and double the number of 4-year-olds in a preschool program for at-risk kids.

The Republican governor's spending plan, which needs approval from the GOP-led Legislature, also calls for socking more money in a rainy day fund, a bigger state police force and a modest 2 percent boost in spending on K-12 schools, universities and community colleges.

Snyder called it a responsible budget at a time Michigan's economy is turning the corner.

"This is not the time to go back to the bad habits that caused the financial messes of the last decade," he said during a half-hour of remarks before he and top aides took questions from legislators on the House and Senate budget committees.

In providing a more detailed plan to fix ailing roads and bridges, Snyder proposed increasing the 19- cents-a-gallon gasoline tax and 15-cents-a-gallon diesel tax to 33 cents for both, with the tax fluctuating after a couple years depending on fuel consumption and construction costs.

Vehicle registration fees would rise, too, under Snyder's plan – though he is open to different ways to raise revenue. The typical family overall would pay $120 per vehicle more each year in gas taxes and vehicle fees, a tough sell even if people recognize roads are in bad shape.

Of his request for $1.2 billion more for the transportation system, Snyder said: "I don't say that lightly."

He and business groups say Michigan will be stuck with a much larger bill in the future if lawmakers do not act. Snyder also cited repair-shop bills associated with driving on pothole-ridden roads that are dangerous for motorists and said spending more would create jobs.

"This is common sense to me," he said.

Snyder also formally recommended making 470,000 more residents eligible for Medicaid d – a move he said would initially save the state $200 million a year. That, too, is looked at with skepticism by Republican legislators who worry the federal government will renege on a promise to cover the cost.

"Whenever you get their money, we lose any control over what we do and what our recipients get," said Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, who questioned taking money from a Washington struggling with deficits and debt.

The governor said the state would save on Medicaid because more people who now receive care from state-funded programs would instead be covered with federal money. He called for setting aside $100 million a year of those savings so Michigan can pay 10 percent of the cost once the federal government stops covering 100 percent.

"The bottom line is better care at a lower cost. This is not about taking money and spending money from Washington. I don't believe in that," he said while noting that the uninsured visit emergency rooms because they do not have health insurance. "They're classified as uncompensated care. They're still real people."

Snyder also wants to boost the number of low-income children receiving dental care. His proposal would cover 70,500 children in Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties. Currently more than 440,000 children in 75 of the state's 83 counties are enrolled in the program.

Democrats asked why large Wayne County, home to Detroit, would continue to be excluded from the program. Budget director John Nixon said the state can afford only so many slots.

Public schools, universities and community colleges would get 2 percent more overall funding in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The proposal would again require universities to hold tuition and fee increases to under 4 percent or lose part of their state aid.

Snyder asked lawmakers to double enrollment of 4-year-olds in a preschool program for kids at risk of failing. Over two years, the number of participants in the Great Start Readiness Program would rise from 32,000 to 66,000.

Democrats supported Snyder's call for more early childhood funding but complained that overall education spending is not going up enough after Snyder and GOP legislators cut education funding significantly in 2011.

K-12 districts that now get the minimum amount of aid would receive $34 more per student this fall, with the minimum grant being raised to $7,000. Mid-level and wealthier districts would not get the extra money but could qualify for additional funding if they meet performance benchmarks (up to $100 per pupil) or "best practices" ($16 per student) – incentives similar to what the governor included in his last budget.

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, said Republicans have previously dipped into the "cookie jar" by cutting business taxes at the expense of school funding.

"Putting two cookies back in is a good start, but it hardly begins to remedy the extensive damage that's been done to funding for Michigan schools and universities," he said.

Though the focus traditionally has been on per-pupil funding levels, Snyder administration said is not the best gauge of spending because of a change in paying for retirement benefits for school employees. A 2012 law limits the portion of districts' payroll required to go toward the retirement system, so Snyder's administration is budgeting to spend $430 million for excess liabilities -the equivalent of $250 per student.

Snyder also called for higher hunting and fishing licenses fees, $25 million in tax incentives for movie makers – half what is allocated in the current budget – and hiring a net 107 more state troopers.

He proposed putting $75 million more in the rainy day fund, which would total $580 million. It was near empty when Snyder took office.

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