State budget successes and the importance of engagement

Summertime in Michigan is in full swing. As individuals flock to the state’s beautiful lakes and children enjoy a little more time away from school, activity at the State Capitol has slowed. Lawmakers are in their home districts on legislative break, and many are campaigning for the Aug. 7 primary election.

Before break, however, lawmakers passed — and Gov. Rick Snyder signed — two measures that provide funding for the state’s budget starting Oct. 1. The budget will carry through Sept. 30, 2019. Public Acts 207 and 266 of 2018 emerged from a five-month process, with input from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, advocacy groups, the various state departments, and citizens. Each bill underwent many changes since the governor presented his original recommendations in February.

The first “omnibus” budget measure, Public Act 207, includes $39.9 billion in funding and provides for most of the departmental budgets within the state of Michigan. This legislation includes appropriations for items such as road projects, food assistance for families in need, and the Healthy Michigan expanded Medicaid program. Each year, the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) advocates for several programs and items within this budget.

One such critical area for the MCC is support for pregnant women and their children. In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops write of their desire for policies that protect human life, as well as that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion. The upcoming state budget recognizes — for the sixth year in a row — the importance of promoting alternatives to abortion through the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program. Building upon Michigan’s existing pro-life work, the program reimburses eligible service providers for aiding women in crisis pregnancies and their child(ren), up through 12 months after birth. These providers offer pregnancy counseling, prenatal health information, parenting support and education, and necessary care items such as diapers and formula. The $700,000 allocated in the 2018-19 budget will continue to raise awareness and support for this life-affirming work.

The second state budget measure — the “education omnibus” bill, or Public Act 266 of 2018 — contains $16.8 billion for community colleges, universities and K-12 schools. All students deserve to receive a quality education in a safe and caring environment. While, unfortunately, Michigan’s Constitution prevents parents from true educational choice, this year’s budget does acknowledge the importance of nonpublic schools. For example, the education omnibus bill provides funding for a third year in a row to reimburse nonpublic schools for expenses related to state health, safety and welfare requirements, including conducting criminal background checks and carrying out safety drills. It also provides funding for shared-time instructional services, as well as for competitive school safety and robotics grants that are open to both public and nonpublic school applicants.

The U.S. bishops have written that a budget should be measured on how well it promotes the common good, protects the poor and vulnerable, and reduces future deficits (Letter to Congress, Aug. 31, 2017). The MCC is thankful to the governor, as well as legislative leadership and lawmakers from both parties, for their work on the budget and their inclusion of the aforementioned items for Michigan residents.

The budget process, and the final budget laws passed in June, highlight the importance of elections. In the Aug. 7 primary, and later in the Nov. 6 general election, Michiganders will make decisions about who will represent them in Lansing. Those who are chosen will help determine which programs are funded and how much funding budget items receive, in addition to directing the overall legislative priorities of the state. These decisions, whether Michiganders pay attention or not, impact local communities.

So, as summer activities continue, remember there are many opportunities to engage in the legislative and budget process, including the primary election on Aug. 7. Don’t miss it!

Paul A. Long is president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.