- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate on Thursday endorsed inflationary state funding increases for local communities and public universities while rejecting Gov. Rick Snyder's call to add money into a state infrastructure fund and a reserve fund for Flint’s water crisis.

Eleven budget bills were approved, capping two days of voting on a Republican-crafted plan that leaves $542 million in funds sought by Snyder unspent or uncommitted. GOP legislative leaders could push in negotiations to use the money for transition costs to close a state pension system and instead make newly hired teachers eligible only for a 401(k) retirement benefit.

The Senate proposal differs from Snyder’s in many ways. It would not add $266 million to Michigan’s savings account. Nor would it commit another $25 million to a reserve for the Flint drinking water emergency or $20 million for a statewide infrastructure fund created last year in the wake of the man-made disaster.

The Senate plan would cut $28 million from the $2 billion prison budget to reflect a smaller inmate population. It also would not fund the training of 177 new corrections officers. The moves are opposed by the Snyder administration, whose Corrections Department says it already closed a prison last year and prisoner numbers have not declined enough to be able to shut another one.

Spokesman Chris Gautz warned of “incredibly unsafe and dangerous staffing levels” if the agency is forced to lay off nearly 400 workers across 30 prisons at a time when more guards are retiring. The GOP-led House’s corrections budget is more in line with Snyder’s proposal.

“We are deeply concerned with this flawed Senate budget that endangers the real progress that we’ve made in recent years,” Gautz said. “The faulty logic that was used by the Senate to come up with these drastic cuts makes every prison in our state less safe and will end up costing taxpayers more.”

The corrections budget won overwhelmingly approval, however, 33-4. Democrats and some Republicans did object to a higher education budget that would give the 15 state universities an overall 2 percent funding boost, with increases varying by school. Snyder wants a 2.5 percent increase.

State operations funding for five schools - the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Eastern and Western - would remain below what it was seven years ago before Snyder and Republicans slashed aid to address a budget deficit.

“This disinvestment in higher education that has occurred in this state over the last three decades is a tragedy,” said Sen. Coleman Young II, a Detroit Democrat. “We have shifted the cost onto students and their families.”

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, a Lawton Republican who crafted the higher education budget, said she would try to accommodate a push for more university funding in coming talks but “at this point in time the funds aren’t there” in targets set by leadership.

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to get $25 million for Flint’s reserve fund for future needs. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, a Lowell Republican, said the fund currently has a $21 million balance and lawmakers already have committed nearly $400 million in state and federal funds toward the crisis.

The Senate also rejected Snyder’s infrastructure proposal.

Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a construction trade group, said the move “raises questions and doubts about whether lawmakers understand the massive infrastructure problems facing Michigan and if they are at all serious about fixing them.”

Republicans said the budget includes an extra $207 million in road spending as part of a 2015 plan that ultimately will generate $1.2 billion more annually through increase fuel taxes, registration fees and redirecting general funds to the transportation budget. The GOP narrowly rejected Democrats’ attempt to put all of the $542 million in uncommitted money toward roads.

Snyder and legislative leaders hope to finish the budget in early June after receiving revised revenue estimates later this month. The House approved its blueprint earlier this week.

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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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