01/13/2012 07:27 pm ET

Michigan Budget Surplus: Dems Say Education, GOP Says Wait

State budget authorities say things are looking up for Michigan.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon, Budget Director John Nixon, Senate Fiscal Agency Director Ellen Jeffries and House Fiscal Agency Director Mary Ann Cleary reached a consensus on the state's economic and revenues figures at a Friday meeting.

They now predict total revenues for the current fiscal year, which started in October, will exceed last year's May estimates by $416 million. Revenues for the next two years are expected to grow as well, but at a slower rate.

Estimates of a surplus from fiscal year 2011 vary, but most recent figures, taking into account the portion of the surplus that has already been allocated for the current year, hover above $400 million. CBS Detroit estimates the balance at $457 million.

The exact figure of the surplus will not be known until March when the state of Michigan finalizes its yearly accounting.

State officials also believe job growth will continue to climb.

"In 2011, Michigan’s economy experienced job growth for the first time since 2000. This improvement in economic activity is expected to continue through 2014, which will help bolster tax collections," Dillon said in a recent statement.

University of Michigan economist George Fulton agrees with Dillon's positive outlook on jobs. He told Michigan Radio that he expects the unemployment rate to fall below 10 percent this year as the state gains about 26,000 jobs.

State Democratic and Republican leaders are divided on what to do with the money. Gov. Rick Snyder and other GOP politicians have said it's too soon to start spending the extra money.

Democrats like House Democratic Leader Richard E. Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Township) want to invest the money in education.

In a release, he said that state Republicans had squandered a $900 million surplus in last year's School Aid Find to give tax cuts to Michigan businesses.

"Now that we have additional revenue we must use it to right this wrong," Hammel said. "If we seriously want to revive our economy and attract businesses and jobs to our state then we cannot cut corners on education."

Officials discovered a similar surplus of $429 million dollars after Republican legislators made drastic budget cuts last year. The lawmakers eventually reinvested the funds in education, but tied the money to a series of "best practices" that encouraged districts to privatize non-teacher staff and cut healthcare benefits.

Snyder will present his budget plan on Feb. 9.