By Rep. Mike Hanley
House Democratic Leader
LANSING - Ever wonder what you would do if you had a whole lot of extra money in your bank account?
That's the situation in which we in state government find ourselves. After a recent review by fiscal analysts and state budget experts, it was announced that the state will have a budget surplus of about $1.4 billion. As you might expect, the battle over how to spend this money is already in full swing, and I agree that there are plenty of opportunities and causes worthy of it.
However, House Democrats strongly believe that there are two very significant issues which demand our attention: education and health care for Michigan's families.
In the past, we have neglected our financial obligations to these areas. We must seize the opportunity to pay the bills we owe and invest in the future. Specifically, we should take the $1 billion surplus in the school aid fund and distribute it as follows: spend $200 million to begin a statewide reduction of class sizes in grades K-3 to 17 students per classroom.
Class size reduction would be phased-in, beginning with school districts and public school academies where more than 50 percent of the students are considered "at risk."
- Pay $300 million owed by the state to local school districts for the cost of state-mandated special education programs. These are costs that school districts have been forced to meet by cutting academic and athletic programs.
- They were the basis of two lawsuits - Durant and Durant II - in which courts ruled that the state had failed to meet its responsibilities to provide funding for special education.
- Invest $30 million to expand "school readiness" pre-K programs which help four-year-olds get a jump start toward future success in school.
- Provide $25 million to allow every school district to hire a Parent Involvement Advocate to reach out and get parents more involved in their children's education.
- Provide $60 million to expand training for Michigan's teachers, improving their skills and reinforcing their ability to deliver quality education in the classroom.
We also support investing a $405 million surplus in the state's general fund to:
- Reimburse $150 million owed by the state to community hospitals and other health providers, some of which have been forced to reduce services or close altogether. These dollars will be matched by federal funds, bringing the total investment to at least $300 million.
- Invest $150 million in improving the quality of care in Michigan's nursing homes, in part by helping operators raise wages to keep quality staff, and improve in-home and community-based services for the elderly.
- Invest $50 million to double the state's commitment to prescription drug assistance for senior citizens.
We are enjoying record prosperity, there is no doubt about that. But this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. By investing wisely in education and health care, we will keep our economy strong and make the future secure for our families.