- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan will close a prison south of Traverse City in September to save $22 million in the next budget, a move the state’s correction chief said Tuesday is possible because of reductions in the prison population and fewer people being incarcerated.

The Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley, which opened as a prison camp in 1956, was converted to a minimum-security prison in 2001. It has 1,344 inmate beds and 230 employees.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and top GOP lawmakers hinted at a prison closure last week while finalizing spending levels for state agencies and budget areas that had to be scaled back due to lower-than-expected tax revenues.

“While this is a difficult day for the staff at Pugsley, the ability to close a facility is a result of the hard work by so many across the department to help bring down our prison population,” Corrections Director Heidi Washington said in a statement. “This closure will provide the maximum savings possible to taxpayers.”

The announcement came a day before a House-Senate budget committee was expected to endorse the closure. On Tuesday, conference panels approved big budgets such as school aid, including a $60 to $120 per-student funding increase, and transportation - including more spending on road and bridge work once fuel tax and vehicle registration fee increases take effect in 2017.

Michigan’s prison population, which peaked in 2007 at 51,554, is now below 42,000 for the first time in nearly two decades. The department said it will try to transfer as many Pugsley workers as possible into other open jobs.

The Michigan Corrections Organization, the union for thousands of corrections officers, issued a statement saying the closure is “unfortunate” because lives will be disrupted.

“Our members want to know what will happen to their careers and their families. All these details that impact officers’ lives must be sorted out, according to MDOC and MCO protocol, in the coming weeks.”

The Republican-led Legislature is expected to take final votes as soon as next week on the $54 billion-plus budget for the fiscal year starting in October. Bills advancing Tuesday included:

- School aid: There is an extra $5 million for the state school reform/redesign office, which is becoming more aggressive in taking over schools in the bottom 5 percent academically. Democrats opposed funding a state-appointed CEO for four East Detroit schools - which is on hold due to a lawsuit - and elsewhere. They also criticized the addition, for the first time, of $2.5 million to reimburse private schools for their costs adhering to state requirements such fire and lockdown drills, immunization record-keeping and criminal background checks. A House plan to replace the new state standardized test, known as M-STEP, was dropped.

There also is an initial $72 million payment toward Snyder’s proposed $670 million restructuring of the ailing Detroit Public Schools, which would create a new district for students to attend while keeping the current one intact to retire a massive operating debt. Legislators continue negotiating how much to spend overall and whether to regulate charter schools.

- Education: There is $4.5 million to help reimburse Michigan schools for the cost of lead testing in the wake of Flint’s water crisis. The water tests are voluntary, and each school building could receive a maximum of $950. State Board of Education members will continue getting per-diem and travel expenses. House Republicans had moved to strip the money after being angered by the Democratic-led board’s proposed guidance to schools on supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students - including letting them use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity.

- Veterans: There is an additional $1.8 million to boost wages for privately hired nursing assistants at the troubled state-run Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. An audit in February uncovered insufficient care and inadequate staffing levels at the 415-resident facility. The 160 nursing aides will earn $13 an hour, up from $11.25 now and $10.25 as recently as April.

- State police - There is nearly $1.5 million to expand Snyder’s “Secure Cities” program so troopers patrol in more cities. They now are based in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw. State police would be sent to Benton Harbor, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Highland Park, Inkster and Muskegon Heights under the budget - which also finances a school to graduate 65 new troopers.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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