Thursday marked the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service (and with it, the Michigan Cooperative Extension Service, now known as Michigan State University Extension). U.S. Sen. Hoke Smith of Georgia and U.S. Rep. A. F. Lever of South Carolina authored the Smith-Lever Act to expand the “vocational, agricultural and home demonstration programs in rural America” by bringing the research-based knowledge of the land-grant universities to people where they live and work.
Our Michigan Legislature is expected to adopt two resolutions that honor MSU Extension. Yesterday, May 8, the Michigan Senate adopted Senate Resolution 143. It recognizes the significance of the Smith-Lever Act to the establishment of Cooperative Extension nationwide and encourages people to observe and celebrate the centennial with a focus on launching an innovative and sustainable future for Cooperative Extension. Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker was the lead sponsor of the resolution in the Michigan Senate, and was joined by co-sponsors Darwin Booher, Jack Brandenburg, Michael Green, Goeffrey Hanson, Michael Kowall, John Pappageorge and John Proos.
Rep. Roger Victory is the lead sponsor on a similar resolution in the House of Representatives, and the House members are expected to vote on the resolution next week. I’m grateful for the support we receive from our Legislature as well as from Michigan residents.
We’ve spent 100 years delivering programs to help people improve their lives, and you as educators, specialists, support staff, volunteers – whatever your contribution ‒ have been a part of that history. We will continue to extend university-based research and knowledge to Michigan residents. You can be proud of our past, our present and the future that MSU Extension will create.
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.
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.
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!
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.