Public safety gets boost in Michigan budget plan

Associated Press
Accompanied by state budget director John Nixon, left, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, right, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks about his budget proposal during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's depleted law enforcement ranks would get a financial boost with a budget plan laid out Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder, an attempt at reversing steady declines in officer numbers over the past decade.

The Republican governor's budget proposal also includes increased money for public schools and universities — with strings attached, tied to performance — and additional money in tax revenue sharing payments for local governments. Michigan's budget situation appears to have stabilized after years of fighting deficits, and the proposed $48.2 billion plan for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 represents a 2.4 percent increase from current spending levels.

Michigan's Republican-led Legislature will sort through the details of the Snyder plan and likely adopt a new budget in the late spring or early summer. A key component is public safety, important in a state that has lost more than 3,000 law enforcement officers in the past decade, according to the statistics from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

Snyder again noted that Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw rank among the nation's top 10 in violent crime.

"That's unacceptable," Snyder said. "We need to put a focus on that ... so I believe it's appropriate to make a significant investment in public safety."

Much of Snyder's broad proposal aims to help high-crime communities, although it's not yet known what the proposal would mean for law enforcement numbers in specific cities because details are not expected until March. The broad plan would provide a 16 percent funding boost to the Michigan State Police from the state's general fund, or roughly $43 million. That should clear the way for increased numbers of state troopers, pending ratification of a new contract with the troopers' union.

The Michigan State Police had 949 troopers assigned to posts statewide as of late last month. That's down from about 1,350 a decade ago because of annual budget cuts. It's not yet known how many troopers might be added through Snyder's plan.

Snyder would add $15 million for "law enforcement enhancement" that potentially could help local law enforcement departments, although details aren't expected until he gives a special message on law enforcement to the state Legislature next month. Snyder also wants programs aimed at putting young people and the chronically unemployed, included ex-cons, to work in hopes of deterring crime.

Another potential boost to local-level law enforcement staffing could come through proposed increases in tax revenue sharing payments made to communities. Cities and townships often use that cash to aid police departments, but the funding has been stagnant or cut in recent years.

"For local communities and the residents who rely on them for services, the governor's 2013 budget proposal is a modest improvement after years of devastating reductions," said Summer Minnick of the Michigan Municipal League.

Snyder's public safety proposals are not all additions. While overall prison system spending would increase slightly, his proposal calls for eliminating 115 positions in parole and probation services. The Snyder administration says the total number of probationers and parolees has dropped by 9 percent in the past two years, but union officials said reducing the number of people monitoring ex-convicts is bad for public safety.

The governor's plan doesn't appear to be as aggressive or expensive as one promoted by Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, who would spend about $140 million over the next two years to put 1,000 more cops on the streets.

Schuette's plan has been questioned by Republican legislative leaders because it relies solely on a budget surplus from last fiscal year and may not address long-term law enforcement needs. But some lawmakers appear to like the scope of Schuette's plan better, questioning whether Snyder's plan goes far enough, fast enough.

Sen. Glenn Anderson, a Democrat from Westland, compared parts of Snyder's plan for filling the needs of communities and law enforcement "to trying to fill a barrel with an eyedropper."

But Democrats appeared thankful that at least some help was on the way after years of budget cuts.

Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature say they'll carefully review Snyder's proposal, but they're also interested in paying off as much long-term debt as practical.

"We agree with the governor in placing jobs, education and public safety at the top of our priorities," House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said in a statement. "We also must ensure, however, that we can continue adding to the balance of our savings account and paying down more long-term debt to reduce the burden others had piled upon our children and grandchildren."

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said that "while the improvements in our state are encouraging, we must continue to make responsible and common-sense decisions."

Snyder wants to give Michigan's rainy day fund for state government a $130 million infusion. The state put $255 million into the fund this year, the first deposit since 2004.

Snyder also wants to spend $4.5 million to support financial review teams for ailing school districts and local governments.

The budget also would take $119 million from the general fund to match federal transportation dollars. Without that money, Michigan won't raise enough in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes to get all the federal dollars for which it's eligible. Snyder has urged lawmakers to find ways to raise $1.4 billion more for roads, bridges and transit systems, but it could take a while for lawmakers leery of angering voters to follow that suggestion.

Some types of autism coverage would be provided for children accepted into Medicaid or the MIChild health care program. The Healthy Kids dental program would be expanded and the basic rate for foster parents would be increased by $3 per day.

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Associated Press writer Kathy Barks Hoffman contributed to this report.

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