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Let’s return to Snyder-era budget timeline

We’ll make no statement here on the content of the state budgets under former Gov. Rick Snyder, but we wish the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could keep the budget timelines Snyder and former legislative leaders kept throughout his tenure.

The state budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 every year. But that doesn’t line up with many of the local governments that receive state funding, causing numerous problems.

Schools, especially, struggle under the state’s budget timeline. By law, school boards have to approve budgets by June 30 every year for new budgets that begin on July 1.

Since the overwhelming majority of their revenue is based on per-student payments from the state, school boards have to approve budgets based on little more than guesses. Every summer, they have no idea exactly how many students they’ll have, or how many they’ll get paid for, until fall student counts.

And, if the Legislature and governor haven’t yet inked a budget deal, schools have no idea how much the state will pay them per student.

So schools have to budget in the blind for three months, even though they have to spend money in that time to hire teachers, buy equipment and books, maintain schools, and everything else.

Many local governments face similar struggles.

Every budget Snyder signed was finalized early, usually in plenty of time for schools and local governments to make at least more educated guesses about their own budgets, which means they could spend taxpayer money more wisely.

We need to get back to that. Though this year’s School Aid Fund was finalized in the summer, the rest of the budget wasn’t finalized until this week, with less than two weeks until the budget was due.

We understand Snyder, a Republican, benefitted from a Legislature controlled by his party throughout his tenure. Whitmer, a Democrat, has far more negotiations to work through the Legislature still controlled by Republicans. Two of her three budgets have also happened in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with loads of federal money flowing through state coffers, further complicating talks.

We appreciate that Whitmer and lawmakers finalized the School Aid Fund budget this summer, giving schools a better sense of what this school year will look like.

But early budgets should be the norm. Snyder showed it could happen.

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