Although Gov. Rick Snyder didn’t shy away from proposing significant cost cutting by state and local government in his budget message, one area where many expected him to seek deep reductions — the state prison system — suffered a relatively light touch.
Snyder said he would ask the Legislature to approve the closing of one prison, as yet unnamed, saving $18.9 million. He also said he would seek the privatization of food service and prison store operations, along with administrative reductions to save another $32.3 million.
Overall, Department of Corrections spending would be virtually flat, at slightly more than $2 billion in 2011.
Before Thursday, many Lansing insiders said they expected prison cuts as steep as $400 million.
Phil Power, president of the Center for Michigan, who was generally positive about Snyder’s budget, said the prison cuts are “not nearly enough.”
Although funding for higher education is targeted for a 15% reduction, the proposed prison spending “says to me that prisons trump educating bright minds,” he said.
In addition to the operation reductions, prison employees will be asked to shoulder part of Snyder’s proposed $180 million in employee concessions.
But a deal won’t be easy. Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, asked about the prospect for negotiated concessions, said Thursday, “It starts out as a no.”
Grieshaber said his organization’s 8,000 members already have been hit by layoffs and concessions while “performing the most dangerous job in state government. I don’t know what they could offer us” in exchange for concessions.
The Michigan State Police also would be slated to close an unspecified number of posts under the Snyder plan, for a savings of $3.2 million. The posts have not been identified.