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Published: Thursday, 12/11/2008

Michigan budget cuts of $134M spare schools and governments

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LANSING - Lawmakers pared Michigan's mounting budget deficit by $134 million yesterday, approving cuts proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm that include shuttering a state prison and prison camp.

But more spending reductions likely lie ahead in 2009, even if Michigan benefits from an economic stimulus plan that President-elect Barack Obama hopes to sign when sworn into office.

After yesterday's action, the remaining shortfall for the budget that began in October was $106 million, according to the Granholm administration. Senate analysts estimated a $266 million deficit, and state Budget Director Bob Emerson reported seeing worse figures every day.

"We thought it was important we do something and put a down payment on what we believe the deficit will be," Mr. Emerson told the House and Senate appropriations committees, which passed the Democratic governor's budget-cutting executive order.

K-12 public schools, universities, and community colleges were spared for now. So were local governments, which get state aid for police, fire, and other services.

The situation may be more dire next budget year if the struggling economy continues to affect tax revenues.

The 1,200-bed Deerfield Correctional Facility in Ionia and 710-bed Camp Branch in Coldwater will close by April under the executive order. The Adrian Training School, a facility for teen girls, will close in January.

Department of Corrections Director Patricia Caruso said she hopes to transfer as many workers as possible to other facilities with open vacancies. An unspecified number of employees likely will lose their jobs, however. Staff and residents at the Adrian juvenile home will be moved to other facilities.

The Ionia prison has 221 workers and the camp has 113. Closing both will save $42 million a year. Michigan has about 2,400 fewer prisoners than projected. The prison population recently dropped below 49,000 for the first time in seven years.

Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said fewer people are being sentenced to prison, parole rates are up, and a parole program aimed at preventing recidivism is working.

Sen. Alan Cropsey (R., DeWitt) criticized the decision to close the prison and camp, warning public safety will be put at risk.

Michigan has 41 prisons and seven prison camps.

Ms. Granholm has been closing prisons and camps in recent years to save money.

The executive order includes $52 million in savings from lower-than-expected caseloads for recipients of welfare, day care, adoption subsidies, and special needs assistance, as well as nearly 8,000 fewer students qualifying for Michigan Promise college scholarships.

An advocacy group for the poor said it's "alarming" that fewer families are getting cash assistance in a state with high unemployment.

"Poor policy choices in recent years have made it harder for those in need to qualify for help," said Sharon Parks, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services.

The state also will save money by leaving vacant jobs unfilled, shifting money around, and using fewer contractual services, supplies and materials.

Cutting the budget is likely to be among the final actions taken by lawmakers before they adjourn for the year - either this week or next.

Some Republicans suggested the cuts didn't go far enough. Mr. Emerson responded that the administration sought a middle ground so cuts could win quick approval.



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