- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate approved a near-$55 billion spending plan Wednesday that would close two of the state’s 32 prisons and move inmates to a privately-owned facility, moves that are at odds with the House and Gov. Rick Snyder.

The closures are included in a $38.8 billion general budget bill approved 26-11 along party lines in the Republican-led chamber. The Senate also voted 23-13 in favor of a $16.1 billion education budget, setting the stage for negotiators to resolve their differences before lawmakers’ self-imposed early June deadline to complete the next state budget that will start in October.

The Snyder administration and legislative economists will meet May 17 to revise revenue projections - a key step before the final stretch.

“The real savings comes from the closure of a facility,” Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said of trying to contain spending on the $2 billion prison system at a time the inmate population has declined. “Shouldn’t we consider closing facilities that are excessively costly to maintain and upgrade to keep them efficient?”

It would be up to the Department of Corrections to decide which prisons to shutter.

The legislation projects nearly $47 million in annual savings from closing two prisons. The savings would be partially offset by $5 million a year to lease the North Lake Correctional Facility in Lake County - which is owned by the GEO Group and houses Vermont inmates - and $26 million annually to staff it with state corrections officers.

Both the Republican governor and the GOP-led House - which approved its own budget plan last week - instead want to save $5 million by not using portions of five prisons.

Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said the prisoner population has been declining and “if trends continue, it would lead to the closure of a facility.” But “until that point and until we are confident that our population trends will continue downward, in order to match our capacity with our population we have closed several housing units (inside prisons) around the state.”

Democrats lodged concerns that using a private prison could result in problems similar to those encountered when the state hired a company to prepare and serve food inside prisons.

Under the Senate budget, K-12 districts would see per-student increases between $60 and $120, in line with Snyder’s proposal and the House. The 15 state universities would get an overall 4.4 percent funding boost, ensuring all of the colleges’ state aid would reach what it was before a large cut was enacted after Snyder took office in 2011. Under the House budget, funding would rise but for five universities - including the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State - it would still remain below levels from six years ago.

Democrats opposed the education bill over provisions such as giving private schools $5 million to reimburse them for mandated non-instructional costs such as fire drills, saying it is unconstitutional.

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Online:

Senate Bill 800: http://1.usa.gov/26UQMHS

Senate Bill 801: http://1.usa.gov/1UA4oTN

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