Speer: Snyder’s budget has limited bright spots

I believe Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal Thursday is a mixed bag for Northeast Michigan residents.

On one hand I give him kudos for a number of proposals I support.

And, yet again, he has proven to be a real independent in political thinking by proposing to expand Medicaid eligibility to 320,000 state residents under a federally-backed expansion program. His decision was met with approval by legislative Democrats and uncertainty by his Republican peers in the legislature.

I appreciate his independent thinking and putting forth ideas and concepts he believes best for Michigan.

Unfortunately, not everything I found to my liking. In particular I was very disappointed in his highway funding proposal. After he narrowed in on highway improvements in his State of the State address this year, I was hoping for more. Instead, all state residents received was another pothole in the long debate as to how best to fund improvements.

I had hoped for an innovative and new proposal to fund highway improvements so that it might be something I could embrace and support publicly. Unfortunately, increasing the 19-cents-per gallon gas tax and 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax to 33 cents each isn’t anything new. Neither is his 60 percent increase in vehicle registration fees. Together, according to Associated Press, the average family in Michigan would pay $120 more each year with both proposals.

Sorry, but Northeast Michigan residents can’t afford that kind of an increase, especially when there is no guarantee as to where the extra tax money is going to be spent. Without guarantees that the money would return to the region from where it originated, there can be little excitement about such significant increases, especially from this corner of the state.

The governor insisted that without the increases, state highways only are going to get worse and eventual repairs, more costly. Certainly he is right. But given the spike in gas prices this past month, residents are just as concerned how they are going to find the extra nickels to pay for the extra 18 cents per gallon increase in the gas tax. Imagine their delight, for instance, had motorists gone to the pumps Friday – only to discover local gas prices had skyrocketed yet again. Can you envision a survey Friday afternoon at gas stations asking motorists their thoughts on the governor’s highway proposal?

Everyone agrees there is a problem. The harder part is agreeing on the solution.

Thankfully there were bright spots in the budget as well.

Increasing the state police force, for instance, is a concept few are going to find fault with. In today’s world, the more deterrents we have to discourage criminal acts, the better.

Likewise conservation seems to have been a priority item with the governor as he proposed hiking hunting and fishing fees, although the brunt of the increases will be paid by out-of-state sportsmen who want to hunt or fish in Michigan. As long as the revenue remain strictly within the DNR budget and not raided for projects elsewhere by the legislature, I can support the increase.

While school funding still isn’t at a level where area superintendents would like to see, there is more headed this way via the budget. Districts at the minimum levels of state funding would receive $34 more per student.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. would receive $10 million toward new training programs. Alpena Community College has been a beneficiary of similar MEDC grants in the past, and there is reason to suspect it could again in the future. Likewise, if the drone project were to move forward locally, some of these dollars also could end up here in connection with that project.

Finally, the governor proposed $21 million for harbor dredging, a vital need as all the Great Lakes are suffering from low water levels, especially Lakes Huron and Michigan, which are at historic lows.

The blueprint has been presented. The ink is still drying. Now will come the interesting part as the legislature “slices and dices” its contents.

It’s going to get interesting.