Whacked UP: Upper Peninsula gets blunt end of the budget stick

Michigan State Roundup

Published September 1, 2005  | September 2005 issue

When state budget times are tough, everyone shares a little pain. But two major institutions in the Upper Peninsula are slated to absorb major cutbacks.

In tiny Newberry, a town of 2,600 in Luce County, the local prison is on the chopping block for complete closure. The medium-security facility houses 925 inmates and employs 225. A smaller prison camp in Manistique, in neighboring Schoolcraft County, is also on the hit list. That facility harbors some 200 inmates and employs more than 100. Together, closing the two facilities would save an estimated $12 million.

By most appearances, the matter has become partisan: Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Democrats have targeted a facility in lower Michigan for closure, with Republicans pushing for the U.P. closures.

Newberry residents have rallied to defend the facility, noting that if it leaves, it not only will take with it one of the county's biggest employers, but will affect services like the fire department and local schools: one-third of volunteers are employed at the Newberry prison, and 139 students of prison workers—better than 10 percent of enrollment—could be lost if workers are transferred to other facilities or otherwise move to find work, according to local reports.

The Newberry facility and city are used to controversy and bad employment news: the prison is the site of a former state mental hospital that was closed in 1992, putting more than 300 out of work.

The budget bleeding doesn't stop there, either. Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, has been eyed for a major cut in its budget. NMU is one of just two universities targeted for cuts.

The proposed funding cuts come on top of the fact that state appropriations to higher education have dropped the previous three years. NMU president Les Wong has said that tuition will likely increase between 6 percent and 19 percent if the cuts go through. As of fedgazette deadlines, there was still hope for these U.P. institutions. State tax revenue rose unexpectedly by about $150 million, creating the possibility that they might be saved from the budget ax.

Ronald A. Wirtz