Tag Archives: Budget

‘A great week to be in Extension’

Brenda Reau, Michigan State University Extension educator and associate director of the MSU Product Center Food-Ag-Bio, shared that quote with me last Thursday, attributing it to Dr. Gordon Guyer, former director of MSU Extension (and president emeritus, MSU). The context was that on any given day, one of Dr. Guyer’s more famous comments was, “it’s a great day to be in Extension.” Well, I’d say his description captures the essence of this week for me.

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Gov. Rick Snyder presented his budget recommendations for FY2015 to the Michigan Legislature. In it, he proposed to increase funding for higher education by an average of 6.1 percent, and he further specified that the funding for MSU Extension and MSU AgBioResearch should be increased by 6.1 percent. That represents a $3.4 million increase in funding for MSU Extension and AgBioResearch combined. Just one year ago, I was giddy about the governor proposing a 2 percent increase in our state appropriation, and eventually the legislature doubled that to 4 percent. Here we are one year later, starting with a 6.1 percent proposed increase, and if anything, that suggests to me that the work MSU Extension and AgBioResearch is doing in support of research and its application to agriculture, food safety and nutrition, community and natural resource development, and youth development is seen as being important and worthy of increased support. To me, this is a message that the work we have carried out to focus and improve our programs, to adopt technology as a tool to reach more people, and to be more accountable for what we do and what difference it makes is paying off. We’re heading in the right direction.

It’s fine to take a moment to relish this development, but this is no time to relax and rest on our laurels. Rather, this is a time when we need to continue improving our programs, following our work plans for the year and adapting technology to help us reach even more people in Michigan. It’s also a good time to share some good news with our stakeholders. And it’s a great time for our stakeholders to share their thoughts with decision makers about the programs they value and the impact our programs are having on their lives, their farms, their businesses, their communities and their families. County commissioners, state legislators and members of Congress all need to hear from their constituents about our programs. And the most effective messages they hear are ones that are not scripted, but rather are authentic and come from the experience of the constituents who are telling their stories.

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Governor’s budget proposal recommends increase for higher education

Governor Rick Snyder released his proposed state government budget for fiscal year 2014 this morning. He has proposed increasing the state investment in higher education an average of 2 percent over last year’s appropriations and specifically proposed increasing funding for MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension by 2 percent. This is a welcome investment in our programs, and reflects an improvement from last year, when the executive budget did not propose any increase in our funding. The 3 percent budget increase that we did receive in the current fiscal year was a result of negotiations in the legislative process. So starting with a 2 percent increase instead of no increase in the first step of the appropriations process would seem to indicate that we stand a good chance of ending up with a budget increase by the end of the process.

One other facet of the governor’s budget presents further opportunities for faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and in MSU Extension and MSU AgBioResearch. The wording from the governor’s announcement follows:

The governor recommends $1 million general fund for a new Food and Agriculture Industry Growth Initiative focused on removing barriers and leveraging opportunities identified by food processors, agri-business, and those in agricultural production as critical to business development and growth. A competitive grant process will fund research, education, and technical assistance efforts. An advisory board, consisting of food and agriculture industry representatives, will identify criteria for grant funding. Grant recipients will be required to identify program outcomes and performance metrics. In addition, up to $2 million will be available in the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) budget to support eligible projects that meet the goals and mission of this initiative. MDARD will collaborate with MSF in identifying projects for funding.

This is a follow-up to the governor’s production agriculture summit held in August 2011. At the summit, he proposed four areas of focus that would help to grow Michigan’s food and agriculture-based economy: increasing the overall economic impact of food and agriculture, increasing the number of jobs in this sector, increasing the value of exports in this sector and strengthening the availability of nutritious food to all of Michigan’s residents.

The appropriation process now turns to the Michigan Legislature. In the past two years, the legislature has completed the appropriations process and the governor has signed the appropriations bills by the early part of June. I anticipate a similar schedule this year. I will join Dr. Steve Pueppke next Wednesday at a joint hearing of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittees for the House and the Senate, during which we will have an opportunity to provide an update of our research and extension programs and their impacts. We will also address questions legislators may have at the hearing as well.

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Our state appropriation for FY 2013 is (nearly) set

I’m still adjusting to the notion of writing articles with this headline in June rather than in September or October. For the second year in a row, the Michigan Legislature has completed the appropriations process for the fiscal year that begins October 1, 2012, by the first week of June. What a welcome change this has been!

 And unlike last year’s budget, in which we received a 15-percent reduction in funding, this time we’re targeted to receive a 3-percent budget increase in state funding. The size of the increase is welcome, but even more important is that it’s an INCREASE and not a DECREASE. It’s been a few years since we’ve been able to say that.

 The Conference Committee for the Omnibus Education Budget completed negotiations on the higher education portion of the budget last Thursday evening (May 31), and the House of Representatives quickly approved the compromise on June 1. The Michigan Senate provided their approval on Tuesday morning, June 5. So now all that remains is for the governor to sign the legislation, and then we will know for certain that our funding for next year will grow by 3 percent. There are some requirements in the legislation that call for us to report on outputs and impacts of our programs, which our new reporting system should help us to fulfill. This is right in line with our goal of providing greater accountability through our redesign process. And the increase is primarily targeted at development of a strategic initiative on growing food and agriculture sectors in the state’s economy, something that cuts across all four of our program institutes.

 As is always the case with a process like this, many people deserve credit and thanks for their roles in achieving this outcome. Within Michigan State University, many of you and other colleagues have helped to tell our story effectively to legislators. I’d like to highlight the role of Dr. Mike Kovacic, director of stakeholder relations for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, for his leadership in working with the MSU Governmental Affairs office and with legislative leaders and staff to address the concerns and questions that were raised throughout the process and to keep us all focused on the outcome we achieved. Given that we began the process with an Executive Budget proposal that had no increase for MSU Extension and AgBioResearch, coming out with a 3-percent increase is an outstanding achievement. Mike was our coach and captain in the campaign that produced this outcome. MSU vice president for governmental affairs Mark Burnham and his colleagues David Bertram and Monique Field also provided great assistance and guidance.

 Many legislators also deserve credit for their roles in this process. We especially benefited from Senators Tonya Schuitmaker, Howard Walker, Darwin Booher, Roger Kahn and John Moolenaar, and Representatives Chuck Moss, Al Pscholka and Amanda Price. They and other legislators deserve thanks and appreciation from our stakeholders who spoke out in support of our programs.

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Shiawassee County restores MSU Extension funding

In last week’s Spotlight, I wrote about Michigan State University Extension Shiawassee County’s possible elimination through county budget cuts. I left you with the news that the Shiawassee County Finance and Budget Committee recommended restoring funding to last year’s amount of $35,036 and that the Shiawassee County Board would meet Nov. 10 – the day Spotlight was posted – to determine the fate of their county. I’m happy to report that the board voted unanimously to restore MSU Extension. The next step is to have the Memorandum of Agreement signed. Thank you to those who rallied around MSU Extension. It was wonderful to see the impact we’ve made in the county reflected in the heartfelt support of the people who have benefitted and grown through our organization. And it is always helpful for MSUE staff and faculty to share their appreciation to those who speak out in support of our programs. We have hundreds of people to thank in Shiawassee County.

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MSU Extension supporters rally to save Shiawassee County Extension from cuts by county

A grassroots movement of Michigan State University Extension supporters are rallying together to support our programs in Shiawassee County. Outside the county building in Corunna, Nov. 7, about 500 of our advocates protested the possible elimination of MSU Extension programs through budget cuts.

 The proposed Shiawassee County budget called for zero dollars to be allocated to Extension. In other words, it called for our organization’s elimination in the county. MSU Extension’s budget was reduced by more than two-thirds in the 2010 budget year. MSU Extension requested $70,530 for 2012, which was still a reduction of 31 percent from the 2009 budget year. As of Nov. 7, the Shiawassee County Finance and Budget Committee recommended to restore funding to last year’s amount of approximately $35,036. The Shiawassee County Board meets today to vote on the budget and determine the fate of MSUE in their county.

 As is often the case, the threat of eliminating MSU Extension in a county has provided an opportunity to showcase the difference our programs make in a county, and District Coordinator Deanna East and MSUE staff in the Shiawassee County office have provided details to news outlets and decision makers to show those impacts. Yet the most compelling cases for support of MSUE come from those who directly benefit from our programs, and folks in Shiawassee County have been pretty vocal these past two weeks in letting their elected officials know how MSUE is important to them.

 I received an email from Jennifer Weichel, Extension educator, earlier this week, in praise of supporters.

 Jennifer said, “We have given these volunteers the life skills they need to fight this battle and the confidence to speak up for what they believe in. I know that this means MSUE staff past and present in Shiawassee County have done their jobs, built capacity, relationships and served as examples of how to make a difference in the community and be catalysts for change. I am proud of everyone who is standing up by calling commissioners, writing letters, making signs and gathering the facts to build their case. As staff members, we have provided the facts and allowed the volunteers to determine their course of action.”

 We appreciate the support from the community, the people we serve. It’s even more important for us to get the word out about the great things we do for the state and continue to do the things we do so well that make a difference in educating the public and improving lives.

 As Jennifer continued to say in her email, “The most important message I have heard is WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE, and they want us to continue being a part of their lives – not just one week of the year but every day and for generations to come.”

 Read more and view a video here.

 Supporters of MSU Extension 4-H have launched a “Save Shiawassee County 4-H” Facebook page. Check it out for photos and updated information.

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Managing your operating budget

One of the changes that Michigan State University Extension staff members in county offices are facing this year is in how they manage and pay for their operating expenses, including travel costs, purchase of program-related materials, photocopying, cell phone fees and others. On Monday’s biweekly Director’s webinar, Annette Tijerina and Michelle Rodgers explained the process involved in obtaining a purchasing card that is tied to individual operating accounts. We will be providing online training opportunities for use of the purchasing cards and other procedures associated with managing individual operating accounts.

 One online resource is already available, from our Fall Extension Conference recordings. On Thursday, Oct. 20, Linda Huyck and the Finance, Housing and Energy work team provided a training session called “Budgeting (Not) for Dummies” on budget planning that is as relevant for operating accounts as it is for family financial management. I really liked the way Linda set the stage for the webinar by saying that with regards to budgets “you need to know where you’re headed” with your budget. In other words, if you have a fixed amount of money available for your operating account, it is important to prioritize the costs that are most important to cover and to understand the difference between your operating “needs” and operating “wants.” Linda provided an example of a spending plan for family budget management, and I imagine that some individuals may have already developed their versions of a spending plan for their operating accounts. If you have a model you’re willing to share, please share it on my blog.

 One of the unique challenges of a budget such as your operating budget is that it receives funding INTO the account once per year, not once every two weeks or once monthly like a family budget. So it’s not just a matter of planning a monthly budget, but rather a year-long budget, and then tracking it carefully to make sure the funds for “needs” in June are still available in June and the funds aren’t completely spent in January.

 We will have many other tools available to help learn how to manage these accounts, but I thought it was helpful to point to something already available from our colleagues to get started on the planning process.

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Federal budget agreement for 2011 nearly settled

The last-minute agreement between leaders in Congress and President Obama last Friday night avoided a government shutdown and finally settled negotiations on the budget for fiscal year 2011.  Yep, that’s the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.  Although it was good to know they reached an agreement, we didn’t really know the details and how they would affect our budgets until Tuesday this week. And the news was even better on Tuesday.  The core funding for Cooperative Extension that comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Budget is authorized under the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which established the national Cooperative Extension System.

In the budget settlement, Smith-Lever funding for this year is reduced by 1.2%.  That was great news in light of the version that had passed the House of Representatives in late February. In that version, our funding would have been reduced by 10%, which would have forced us to figure out how to reduce our budget by $900,000 with a handful of months left in the fiscal year. Instead, we have a much more manageable reduction to absorb, and we can accomplish that with the changes we’ve been implementing anyway.  Congress still needs to approve the deal, and that is expected to happen today or tomorrow.

Now our attention turns to the budget for FY 2012, and Congress is just getting started on that process. It will likely be as contentious as the FY 2011 budget process.  President Obama released his proposed budget back in February, and in that, the funding for Extension was targeted for a 5% reduction.  Given the politics of the budget, it’s likely the House will begin at 5% or an even larger cut in their proposed budget for FY 2012.  It’s doubtful that Congress and the President will come to agreement soon, and there’s a good chance we may end up in a similar circumstance to this year, with the budget decision put off until after the start of the fiscal year.  We’ll plan conservatively in that case so we aren’t caught with needing to make a significant budget cut well into the new year.

On the state front, the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed out their funding bill for 2012 yesterday, and accepted the 15% reduction Gov. Snyder had proposed for MSUE and AgBioResearch funding. They also accepted the combination of MSUE and Michigan AgBioResearch funding into one line. They tweaked the funding for MSU and the other universities, cutting them all by 14% and then distributing the other 1% reduction unevenly among the universities, with universities that have a higher per student appropriation (like MSU, University of Michigan, Wayne State) taking a larger share of the remaining 1% and other universities taking a lower share.  The Senate has not passed out their bill for higher education, but their subcommittee held a hearing yesterday at which MSU President Lou Anna Simon and Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood spoke in support of the combination of the two funding lines into one and announced a summit that will be held this summer to bring representatives of state government, agriculture industries and MSU together to identify key strategic priorities for research, extension and education for production agriculture in the years ahead.  With this in the plans, both presidents encouraged the Senators on the subcommittee to avoid being very specific in their prescription of how the funding should be allocated among the various programs for research and Extension.

There is still a series of votes that will be required before our state appropriation is settled for the next fiscal year, but the early movement of bills like the one from the House subcommittee yesterday is encouraging. Gov. Snyder continues to say he wants the budget settled by June 1, and legislative leaders continue to say they would like that but are more optimistic about getting it done by the end of June. Either circumstance would be a welcome change from the years in which we didn’t know our budgets until after Oct. 1.

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Kalkaska County reinstates funding for MSUE

It didn’t take long for 2011 to produce its first surprise of the year for Michigan State University Extension. On January 3, the Kalkaska County Board of Commissioners, consisting of three incumbents and four newly elected commissioners, took the unusual step of voting on a budget matter during their organizational meeting for the new year. In that budget action, they voted to eliminate funding for MSUE and for the Conservation District, effective immediately. The action required a second hearing of the proposal, which took place last night, January 12, at a very well attended board meeting in Kalkaska. Patrick Cudney, coordinator for MSUE District 3, worked over the past week to determine if the board would consider a revised budget proposal from MSUE and they agreed to consider it. Pat took the opportunity to develop a budget that would reflect the situation with the new Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) that we are drafting, having received input from commissioners and administrative officers across the state. The proposal incorporated funding from the county at the same rate that the assessment would be in the new MoA, along with continued contribution of space for our county office and funding for at least one support staff person in the county office.

 With those reductions, the board voted last night to adopt the revised budget and to restore funding for MSUE for this year. In short, MSUE will continue to be present in Kalkaska County and will continue to provide programs from our four program institutes to Kalkaska County residents. Without a doubt, the success of this process resulted from Patrick’s leadership and MSUE’s willingness to work with the county to help address serious budget matters. Equally important, stakeholders contributed to our success by voicing their support – prior to the meeting and publicly during the meeting – for MSUE to commissioners.

This is our first challenge of the new year, but it won’t be the last. Still, it’s heartening to come away from this with an endorsement for the changes we are making in our MoA with counties, and this helps us to prepare for challenges that we may face from other counties in the year ahead. As is always the case, a budget reduction is difficult, and in this case it means one support staff position in the county office will be eliminated. In today’s economic climate, a job loss stings even more, and we may face further reductions of positions in the months ahead. In this and in future cases, we will do all we can to be supportive of those whose positions are eliminated. For now, it’s reassuring to know that we will continue to serve the residents of Kalkaska County. And a year from now, I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to say that about Michigan’s other 82 counties.

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State Budget completed on time!

Today is the last day of the state fiscal year, and the Michigan Legislature has completed action on the funding process for the higher education budget for the year that starts tomorrow. Actually, the Legislature completed their work on the higher education bill on Tuesday this week, and the governor’s office has indicated that she will approve the bill as passed. In the bill, state funding for Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) will be reduced 2.8 percent from the total support provided for the fiscal year that ends today. There are several positive aspects of this news. First, our budgets were treated the same as those for the state’s 15 publicly supported universities: all are receiving a 2.8 percent reduction in funding. Second, all of the funding for MAES and MSUE is from the state General Fund. In last year’s budget, 44 percent of our funding was slated to come from federal stimulus funds, which added some bureaucratic obstacles to receiving the funds and also shook confidence in what the ongoing level of support for these lines would be. Having our General Fund restored is reassuring. And finally, although it’s hard to ever consider a budget reduction as a good thing, that the reduction is 2.8 percent and not something more severe, like 10 percent or 15 percent that Cooperative Extension programs have experienced in other states in our region, is a positive outcome. With our state’s economy struggling and the structural deficit in the state budget, our programs will continue to be at risk of more severe reductions. But for now, to have a modest reduction of this magnitude while we’re going through our redesign process allows us to better prepare for how we will continue to deliver programs if we face more significant reductions in future years.

 Now is a good time to let those stakeholders who have worked in support of our funding to know how much their support has meant to keeping us intact and to thank them for their dedication to our programs. And ultimately, I want to thank each of you for delivering programs and conducting research while tolerating challenging and uncertain times. Because without those programs and those research findings, we wouldn’t benefit from the kind of support that we have throughout the state from a very diverse group of stakeholders. Thanks!

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State appropriations process back in play

The headlines this week have been encouraging, and they suggest that the Michigan Legislature and Governor Granholm are close to having the state budget resolved for fiscal year 2011 (which begins on October 1). According to news reports, leadership in both houses and the governor’s office have reached agreement on terms that would produce a balanced budget. Several elements of that agreement were approved in one of the legislative chambers yesterday, and conference committees for the various budget bills are now scheduled to meet, beginning with some today (September 9). Little information has been released on the higher education bill, but the target for this bill, that is, the total amount of spending to be appropriated for higher education in the agreement, is the same as what the governor originally proposed in February. The governor proposed no reduction in funding for higher education for FY2011. The details of how those funds are distributed among the multiple lines in the budget are not clear, but I take this as a positive sign that the appropriation for the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan State University will likely be the same as last year or minimally different at worst. At this point, it appears that there is no difference between the parties with respect to funding for our programs. I will post updates to my blog as they develop.

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