In a commentary in the Detroit News, two prominent Michiganders call on Gov.-elect Rick Snyder to rein in corrections spending, which they called “one of the largest contributors to the state’s chronic structural deficit.” The commentators are Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, and Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan. They cited the “startling” fact that the prison system, which accounted for 2 percent of the state’s general fund budget in 1971, now exceeds 20 percent of the general fund. They noted that prison cuts approved in September for fiscal 2011 were largely offset by increases to employee salaries and retirement costs.
They wrote, “The new governor will have the responsibility of proposing his first state budget just weeks after taking office. Budget pressures will offer a courageous leader the opportunity to reduce Corrections spending meaningfully while preserving the safety of our communities. Both are essential if Michigan is to thrive again.().Michigan is one of very few states spending more tax dollars on prisoners than on higher education. Our prison population is declining, and yet the overall Corrections budget has increased, in part because personnel costs are higher than in neighboring states. Fortunately, there are commonsense approaches that can responsibly reduce Corrections’ spending without compromising public safety. We must look at personnel costs, prisoner health care costs and other management and operations efficiencies. We must look systematically at whom we imprison for which crimes and for how long. We must strengthen re-entry programs to assure parolees find productive employment and avoid re-incarceration.”