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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Blame my rural Iowa roots, or perhaps my undergraduate years at a college founded by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants (Go Norse!), but I’m a 30 year fan of Garrison Keillor’s radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” His stories and satires about Midwestern life hit close to home, and help me to see the humor in my experiences. His fictitious community of Lake Wobegon, Minn., is populated with people that I swear lived in my own hometown. I especially enjoy his monologue that always begins “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.”
That seems like a fitting way to start this update, with one change, “It’s been a quiet week in East Lansing.” The irony in Keillor’s story-telling drips out of the radio speakers, and if you think it’s really been quiet here, you’ve been sleeping.
At Fall Extension Conference (FEC09) on October 15, I shared my concern that Gov. Granholm may elect to use a line-item veto to eliminate funding for Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station in the higher education bill. At the time, I was concerned about being an alarmist—a chicken-little forecasting something as ridiculous as the sky falling. As it turns out, the idea of a line-item veto was not as absurd as we had hoped.
I don’t know if the motivation is based on a true sense of our organizations being outdated and unnecessary, or on a realization that people care enough about our programs to mount political heat that will force compromise between opposing political stances. Frankly, the reason for the veto theory is irrelevant. We have two choices: 1) we can stand on the sideline assuming that “surely they won’t let this happen,” or 2) we can inform our stakeholders of the fate that awaits us and them with a line-item veto.
It’s an easy choice. We owe it to the people we serve to do all we can to ensure our organizations continue to serve them AND to do all we can to use the public resources given to us for our mission as wisely and carefully as possible.
Though this puts us in a situation of great uncertainty and anxiety, it also helps us work through some fundamental changes in the way we are organized and the way we deliver programming as we help our stakeholders understand the importance of their voices in shaping public policy.
Has it been a quiet week? Of course not. And yet, as Randy Bell, Chuck Pistis, and others shared at FEC09, facing these dual challenges is a part of doing the work of Extension—at least in this state. The only difference between what we’re facing now and what we’ve faced before is the urgency and scope of the challenges. In that respect, our past helps us to shape our future. I remain confident that MSUE and MAES will continue to serve the people of this state well into the 21st Century. The needs are great, and our capacity to deliver relevant research and education is even greater. Let’s keep focused on doing our work, and at the same time, attending to the other parts of our lives—our families, our health, our friends—and show this state and this nation how resilient we are.
Look for messages from me throughout the weeks ahead to keep you updated throughout this budget process. And remember to log on to the portal and visit the Strategic Communications page for resources you can use when talking to your stakeholders.
Thanks for all you do to keep us in business.
I’ll do my best to give you regular updates about our current budget situation. If we want you to take action, we will communicate that through your CED. It’s important that we deal in fact and stop wild rumors and speculation in their tracks. You have my word that I will always give you as much information as I can on a regular basis. Here’s what we know so far:
On Friday October 16, Michigan State University received its October payment as part of the State’s temporary continuation budget. This payment was expected to be 1/12th of the base funding allocation for MSU, MAES, and MSUE (i.e. one month’s payment). However, the electronic transfer was less than anticipated, and appears to not include funding for MAES and MSUE. University staff called the State Budget Office, Office of Management and Budget and contacted legislators asking what happened to this funding. We have not yet received a clear explanation for the shortage. This raises the question of whether Governor Granholm will exercise her line item veto power and not approve the MAES and MSUE budgets.
In the next week, we expect one of two things to occur:
1. Gov. Granholm will sign the proposed higher education allocation and our focus can return to restoring our General Fund appropriation that was supplanted this year with stimulus funding (44 percent), or
2. the governor will exercise her line-item veto power and eliminate funding for MSU Extension and the MAES.
For more information, log on to the portal and visit Strategic Communications. If you’d like to share information with stakeholders, please refer them to the information that is publicly available on the ANR Communications budget impacts page.