Oakland Press: Balanced, fiscally responsible budget sets the right priorities

Sen. Mike Kowall

Sen. Mike Kowall

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

For the fifth consecutive year, the Legislature has presented a balanced budget to the governor by early summer, several months before the Sept. 30 deadline.

The Fiscal Year 2016 budget maintains the right priorities and is fiscally responsible. It supports vital services, improves government accountability, builds on our commitment to our schools and invests an additional $400 million from existing revenues into fixing Michigan’s roads and bridges.

The budget will make government accountable to the public. It pays down debt and reinforces a long-term approach to a structurally sound budget.

As in recent years, we have strengthened our commitment to education. Funding for third-grade reading has been increased to $31.5 million; over the past five years, we have invested more than $1 billion in state funding for our schools to deliver a quality education for all our students. Reducing legacy costs is directing more money to the classroom and our kids.

The School Aid budget will help to promote vital opportunities for Michigan’s schoolchildren to succeed in our ever-changing economy; the budget invests in the future by placing more money toward educational opportunities, college and career planning, and skilled trades training.

As Michigan’s economy continues to grow and create jobs, the need to increase support for career and technical education needs to grow right along with it. In this budget we increase support for career and technical education to more than $36 million. This means more funding for skilled trades, workforce development and adult education programs. It is an investment in career training to provide students and workers the skills necessary to land well-paying jobs.

Additional budget highlights include the following:

Savings. I am glad we were able this year to invest $94 million in the state’s savings account. This puts the Rainy Day Fund over the half billion-dollar mark and ensures that the state will have a safety net. It is critical to maintain this fund at adequate levels in case of emergencies.

Revenue sharing. Making sure our local communities have the funding needed to provide vital services is one of the state’s responsibilities. The budget increases revenue sharing by $1.24 billion, helping guarantee locals the money they need.

Public safety. The budget invests in our local communities and promotes safer communities by directing more money toward local police and fire services. And it enhances public safety with additional money to fund the hiring of 88 new state troopers to help fight crime in our communities. Better preventive measures and more accessible rape-detection kits will help in the fight against campus sexual assault.

MPSERS. This budget makes a significant contribution to the debt for the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (MPSERS). It increases state contributions to MPSERS by $217 million — for a total of $994 million in debt reduction.

Higher education. Increased funding to higher education will provide greater accessibility while a cap on tuition increases will help keep costs manageable.

Children’s services. We’ve increased funding to the Healthy Kids Dental Services by $37 million so more kids can receive access to dental care.

Health care service. We continue to fund rural hospitals, providing more Michiganders access to much-needed health care services.

My colleagues and I in the Legislature continue to focus on fiscal responsibility and sound budgeting. We will continue fighting for hardworking taxpayers to build on the foundation we have laid for Michigan’s future economic success.

This op-ed first appeared in the Oakland Press. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.