March 23, 2011/The Eastern Echo
By Katie Milewski
Students, residents and councilmen all showed up to voice their concern and outrage about Gov. Snyder’s budget proposal Monday night at Washtenaw Community College.
Sen. Rebekah Warren – D, hosted the town hall meeting where she and panelists spoke and took questions about the budget. Panelists included Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber; Dedrick Martin, the Superintendent of the Ypsilanti School District; EMU accounting professor Howard Bunsis and Audrey Dowell, a University of Michigan graduate student in social work.
Warren opened the discussion by sharing facts about the proposed budget, the differences between it and the current budget and how the communities in Washtenaw County would be directly impacted by the changes.
“There are only a few ways local communities raise money to do what they need to,” Warren said. “Cities provide all of the basic services we all need in the community.”
One of these money-raising opportunities is revenue sharing, where the state distributes sales tax to local governments. Ypsilanti is facing a minimum $1,176,142 cut, a 44 percent drop.
“That is a 10 percent cut to our expenditure,” Schreiber said. “[If the budget is passed], Ypsilanti will be out of money at the end of 2014.”
The mayor broke down the city’s yearly expenditure, explaining half of the general fund is spent on police and fire, another third on revenue gaining expenditures and the remaining money on things like elections.
“These plans do not help our cities,” he said. “We need to invest in our cities. We need to make cuts but not on the poor and not on the people who need the money the most.”
Cities aren’t the only ones facing cuts. Also on the handout were the proposed cuts to school budgets. Ypsilanti School District’s minimum cut would be $1,814,645 on top of the $4 million in cuts the district has made in recent months to be in line with the debt elimination plan.
“In the past 18 months we’ve closed two buildings, had lay offs and consolidated transport in an effort to reduce spending,” Martin said.
The new cuts would bring the budget down $11.5 million, a 23 percent cut to the district, which Martin estimates serves over 100 homeless students. These cuts would mean an increased class sizes, when students are already nearing 30 per class, as well as reduction in sports, arts and after school activities.
“We have to be mindful of the long term effects on the students and the community,” Martin said.
Higher-education students will be impacted as well. Michigan is one of only a few states spending more on the correction system then they do on education, something Bunsis concentrated on during his segment.
“Our budget right now says that we want more prisoners and fewer college students,” he said. “What we should want is more college students and fewer prisoners.”
One issue Bunsis had with the plan was how the cuts would impact the poorer Michiganders.
“Raising taxes on people making $15 to $20,000 a year?” he said. “I could not know on what planet that’s ok.”
Dowell’s perspective was similar to Bunsis’s and the graduate student concentrated on the impact these changes would have on the people of Michigan.
“For every dollar put back into the economy [by the earned income tax program] puts 1.67 dollars back into the community,” she said. “If we eliminate that, we put 14,000 children into poverty.”
Many audience questions centered on topics like recalling the governor. While this is something gaining momentum online, many of the panelists felt it wouldn’t be enough to change what is happening.
“It’s bigger than the governor,” Martin said. “We are seeing this pop up in other states.”
For Bunsis, waiting until the 2012 elections might be the best course of action when it comes to Snyder leaving office.
“Recalls are expensive,” he said. “2012 is not very far away. We have to get out there and vote for candidates who are going to support the issues we’re talking about here.”
Another hot audience topic was the Emergency Financial Manager, which is part of an act signed into law by the governor Wednesday, March 16.
“In Ypsilanti, people run for city council,” Mayor Schreiber said. “An emergency manager is an emergency dictator.”
These managers can have the power to eliminate contracts and only have to report to one elected official, the governor. Also, according to Warren, there is no pay cap on the position.
“An emergency manager can devalue gains we’ve made,” Martin said. “How is a financial manager able to make decisions that impact a child’s life?”
Those on the panel weren’t the only ones concerned about these drastic changes. The citizens who came to the meeting were also worried.
“It’s really scary,” retired EMU professor Lora Durham said. “I’m concerned for the quality of education. We need to keep education as an important aspect of our state.”
EMU psychology professor Alida Westman had other concerns about the governor and how he is running the state.
“Snyder ran on increased jobs,” she said. “Many people thought Snyder was a moderate republican. Now, it doesn’t look that way.”
While the meeting was largely one-sided, some in attendance approved of the conclusions reached by it.
“I work in public policies, I hear about this stuff on a daily basis,” Ypsilanti resident Richard Murphy said. “But I appreciated the realistic conclusions, that it’s at elections where these decisions get made.”
For others in attendance, the meeting fell short.
“There was a lot of reiteration,” David Palmer, an EMU graduate student studying public administration said. “I came to see if any there were any real proposals to counter the governor’s. If you want to change a discussion, you have to come to the table with a proposal, and I didn’t hear that tonight.”
Local leaders also came out to see what the panel and the residents of Washtenaw felt about the budget.
“I have the same concerns as other public leaders,” Ypsilanti city councilman Dan Vogt said. “How do we correct misconceptions? How do we deal with the budget crisis? We have to get people to understand the seriousness of the choices being made.”
Fellow city councilman Pete Murdock shared Vogt’s views on the severity of the situation.
“The proposals we have are all pretty devastating,” Murdock said. “You can talk about shared sacrifice all you want, but that’s not what’s coming out.”
The panelists and audience shared not only views as well as their ideal outcome: the improvement of the state.
“I have a different vision of the future of Michigan then the governor has laid out,” Warren said. “In my vision of the state, we’re all in this together.”