Jun 24, 2009

A pair of Senate Republicans display a rare but brief show of independence

LANSING – Senate Republican’s lock-step discipline faltered a little on Tuesday with the passage of House Bill 4438 that sets the budget for higher education, and two members actually showed a brief flash of independence.

The budget basically guts financial aid for students and eliminates the $4.000 Promise Scholarship. The program promises up to $4,000 to high school graduates for successfully completing two years of postsecondary education.

The Senate Republicans have continued their draconian budget cuts as they prepare for their two-week vacation that begins Thursday; knowing the House will bail them out. The devastating cuts to the higher education budget come at a time when Michigan is trying to diversify its economy and counter the jobs because of the state’s largest employer – the Big 3 – losing market share.

“We must keep our promise of granting Michigan citizens access to an affordable college education,” said Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor. “With our traditional manufacturing job base shrinking and our unemployment rate continuing to rise, our kids need a college education now more than ever to qualify for the jobs of the 21st Century. This is an extremely shortsighted decision that sets our students and our state back even further.”

Senate Democrats tried to fight off the deep and damaging cuts, but all the amendments they introduced lost along party lines. But Democrats got some surprising support when fiscally conservative Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced an amendment that cut the $4,000 scholarship to $2,000.

When it looked like it would pass, Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, moved the amendment be passed temporarily, and a closed door caucus was immediately called to take Cassis to the woodshed and get her back in line. When the Senate reconvened, Cassis lost her brief flirtation with independence and she dropped the amendment and introduced one that left the now Broken Promise Grant line-item with a $100 placeholder that was approved.

Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, then introduced the same amendment as Cassis had to restore half of the money for the Promise Scholarship, but it failed along party lines.

HB 4438 received just enough votes to pass, and it was approved almost along party lines with a vote of 19-17. Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, joined the Democrats in voting no on the budget.

No comments: