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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2008

Michigan budget plan aims to trim prison spending

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LANSING - The budget proposal that state budget director Robert Emerson delivers today is expected to trim spending on prisons, but one influential senator has asked Gov. Jennifer Granholm to not count on any savings until legislation changing sentencing requirements actually passes.

Ms. Granholm said last week in her State of the State address that the state needed to look again at making changes in prison spending in the budget year that starts Oct. 1. Among those changes are rewriting sentencing guidelines so some convicts are sent to county jails with shorter sentences rather than to state prisons.

"We can achieve significant savings in our Corrections Department by adopting changes that save money but do not compromise public safety," Ms. Granholm said in her address. "Money that we save from adopting corrections policies similar to those of other Midwestern states can be used to hire more police officers in our neighborhoods to prevent crimes."

But Sen. Alan Cropsey (R. DeWitt), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that oversees corrections spending, warned yesterday that the Democratic governor may not be able to get the changes she wants to lower prison costs.

"Last year, she based her budget on policies to be enacted, on policies she couldn't even get the Democrats to touch," Mr. Cropsey said. "At this point, either on the Democratic or Republican side, we haven't been shown any changes that anyone feels comfortable with."

Last year, the Granholm administration proposed sentencing changes that would have changed some felonies into misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail. Other crimes would have had shorter maximum sentences. Some drug offenders would face a maximum three-month jail term, not the potential for up to four years in prison.

Under that plan, the $2 billion prison system - which consumes more of the state's tax dollars than its 15 public universities - would have housed 3,300 fewer inmates over three years. Space in crowded county jails would have dropped by 2,000 beds in a year, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

But the measures went nowhere. County officials said they feared being saddled with more inmates and incarceration costs, and prosecutors and sheriffs warned the public could be at risk from more criminals on the streets.

Mr. Cropsey said that's his concern too. He'd like to see the state do more to reduce the number of criminals who are repeat offenders.

"It's the same people coming in, doing dangerous things while they're out," he said. "That revolving door has got to stop somehow. Because if you can stop that, then you can say, 'We can start to downsize the prison system safely.'•"

He also said he and Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, a South Lyon Democrat who heads the House subcommittee that approves corrections spending, had to scramble to work out a budget that didn't leave the state with a $93 million hole in the corrections budget once much of the savings didn't develop. Mr. Cropsey added that he doesn't want this year's budget proposal to make the same mistaken assumptions.

A call for comment was left with budget department spokesman Leslee Fritz.

The governor last year recommended spending $43.3 billion in state and federal revenue, a 2.2 percent increase. That included $9.6 billion in the state's general fund and $13.4 billion in the school aid fund.

Although the state had to increase the state income tax and add a surcharge to the Michigan Business Tax to make ends meet in the current budget, Ms. Granholm said her 2008-09 proposal will include no new taxes or fee increases.

The governor is expected to raise spending on state universities and community colleges by the rate of inflation, which in 2007 was 1.9 percent, according to the Detroit area Consumer Price Index.

But she also has said she wants universities to hold 2008-09 tuition increases to no more than inflation, even though tuition increases in recent years have averaged 10 percent or more as state funding for higher education has been cut back.

The governor also is expected to give K-12 schools an increase, and to again use a funding formula that gives all schools a per-pupil increase, then doubles that increase for the schools getting the least amount in per-pupil aid.

The governor wants to narrow the gap between schools that get the minimum per-pupil allowance of $7,404 and those that get more than $11,000 per student.

It's likely that schools at the bottom would get more than an inflationary increase, while schools at the top will get less.

Ms. Granholm said last week that her budget proposal also would include $200 million in cuts and reforms, and that she plans to sock away $100 million in the state's rainy-day fund, which now contains about $2.1 million.



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