Chris Wigent is executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators and Don Wotruba is executive director of Michigan Association of School Boards.
Rumors continue to swirl that Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, plans to offer the idea to securitize the state’s pension funds or delay the repayment of debt to find dollars for the state’s roads.
This isn’t a real solution. If adopted, this idea would not only push back the date of full debt repayment for the state, but it would also add billions of dollars to our state’s debt, all on the backs of Michigan educators and public servants.
During the past few weeks, lawmakers have proposed cuts to school revenues, and raided the School Aid Fund (SAF) to find funding to restore our roads. Shirkey’s idea is another short-term solution that may not even generate enough revenue to get our roads to where they need to be. While those funds might be readily available now, the state would have to start paying back the debt it accrues eventually, putting us back in the same position – scrambling to find funding.
Illinois is in a similar position. The state’s teacher retirement system is tens of billions of dollars short to pay promised pensions. Our Legislature should look to them as a warning of the situation these lawmakers would be creating for future legislatures. Our current lawmakers won’t be around when the money runs out, so they won’t be held responsible for their poor decision making.
While we agree that something needs to be done to take care of our state’s roads, securitizing the pension system is not an answer. Former Gov. Rick Snyder worked to reduce state debt, calculating a pay-off date of 2038. This latest scheme would extend that date by many more years. New sources of revenue are needed to pay for the state’s need and public services – we can’t just repurpose existing funds. The state is still catching up on underfunding of the past. This will put us farther behind.
Leveraging school resources for roads is not a real solution. A comprehensive infrastructure plan shouldn’t come in the form of massive cuts to Michigan schools or gambles with the pension system that educators have worked hard to earn. But the proposals out of the Legislature for road funding keep including these cuts on the backs of students and educators. Investing in our infrastructure this way will be worth very little if our school system suffers and more of our educators leave the state or profession. This move would continue to eat at payroll costs, which will ultimately limit teacher wage increases in the future. Why would you take a job where you can’t get a raise to at least keep up with the cost of living?
The Legislature needs to find a sustainable, long-term option to invest in the infrastructure, not steal from the funds that taxpayers have earned.