Here's how we would spend $1 billion

You've likely heard that Michigan's year-end financial housekeeping led to the happy conclusion that the state has a projected surplus of $971 million for the next budget year.

As lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder outline their 2015 budget proposals-and with the governor preparing to give his State of the State address tonight-there's a lot of debate in Lansing about what the state should do with that money.

One Republican proposal would cut the personal income tax rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent over four years. Since the money came from taxpayers like you and me, the logic goes, we should get it back in the form of tax relief. But as the Associated Press reported, the proposal would lead to only a $45 reduction in the average person's tax bill in the first year. The surplus doesn't look so big when it's spread that thin.

But invested in the right programs, $971 million is a lot of cash that can create lasting benefits for Michigan.

And so, we humbly submit to the state's leaders the Michigan Environmental Council's proposal for several smart ways to invest the surplus. Readers, please share your ideas in the comments below. And to the Legislature and the Snyder administration: Let's talk!

$300 million invested back into local communities and neighborhoods. Michigan Municipal League President Jacqueline Noonan said in a statement that the surplus exists in part because of recent cuts to state revenue sharing designed to help communities pay for essential services. "It's time for the Legislature to partner with local communities to enable them to provide essential services, such as police and fire, invest in critical infrastructure improvements, and create vibrant places that attract and retain talent," Noonan said. We agree-building the kinds of communities where educated, entrepreneurial workers want to live is essential to Michigan's economic comeback and long-term success. Increased funding could help municipalities attract and retain talent by improving parks, trails and public transportation.

$300 million returned to education. Nearly a third of the surplus could be used to offset some of the deep cuts Michigan has made to education in recent years. A highly educated workforce prepared to excel in 21st-century careers will be a key contributor to Michigan's long-term economic stability. We should continue to increase our investment in early childhood development, K-12 and higher education.

$300 million for transformative infrastructure. Priorities include:

  • Provide funding for the recently created Regional Transit Authority in southeast Michigan;
  • Expand passenger rail by funding key projects, such as establishing a commuter rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit and accelerating development of the planned WALLY commuter line between Howell and Ann Arbor;
  • Achieve Gov. Snyder's goal of making Michigan the "Trail State," with a world-class network of trails and bike paths linking our neighborhoods, downtowns, parks and natural areas; and
  • Make much-needed upgrades to sewer infrastructure to protect the Great Lakes and inland waterways from pollution.
$71 million for environmental programs that protect "Pure Michigan."
  • $15 million to revitalize downtowns and prevent sprawl by restoring some incentives for cleaning up and reusing brownfields and rehabbing historic buildings;
  • $15 million for water-protection efforts including dam removals, increased inspections and monitoring along Michigan's impaired waterways, better oversight of oil and gas pipelines through sensitive habitat areas-such as the Enbridge line under the Straits of Mackinac-and upgrading our oversight of large water users.
  • $11 million to improve recycling programs and improve Michigan's abysmal recycling rate;
  • $10 million to protect and manage natural areas, non-game and endangered species;
  • $10 million for children's health initiatives to combat asthma, obesity and lead poisoning; and
  • $10 million for more robust protection against invasive species.

Photo courtesy GollyGForce via Flickr.

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